Freedom of Information requests submitted by the Association of Play Industries (API) have highlighted that children's playgrounds are being shut at an ever-faster rate. As a result of central government budget cuts, the Association reports, local authorities have already closed hundreds of playgrounds across England and plan to close a similar number in the future. That said, the long-term benefits this might bring to council budgets remain debatable.
According to the API study, English local authorities closed 214 children’s playgrounds between 2014 and 2016. What’s more, follow-up questioning revealed that a further 234 are slated for closure in order to cover the shortfall funding cuts of 37% imposed on local authorities.
API chairman Mark Hardy added that reversing the closures would require government investment totalling £100m. He commented, "with increasing childhood obesity and the health benefits of activity and play well known, now is not the time for community playgrounds to be closing. This action goes against the government’s clear intention to get children more active."
From the point of view of councils, the closures represent the latest step in a series of austerity measures resulting from reduced funding and the increasing cost of social care. As Gary Porter, the Conservative chair of the Local Government Association, notes, "[councils] are doing this in the face of unprecedented budget constraints."
In addition to the closures, almost 90% of English local authorities have stated their intent to increase council tax to help cover costs. That said, critics such as Tim Roache of the trade union GMB claim the tax hike will simply be "a sticking plaster on a gaping wound" rather than a long-term solution to funding concerns.
The Department for Communities and Local Government responded to the report by noting that councils "have almost £200bn to spend over the course of this parliament – allowing them to prioritise the services that communities and local people value."
However, if they are to balance their budgets while guarding front-line services and covering rising social care costs, cashflow management will be essential. That includes ensuring that major sources of revenue like council tax and business rates are collected as efficiently and sensitively as possible.
For more information about how Dukes Bailiffs can help achieve this, contact an operator today.