Save Britwell's Play Centre
Speech by Paul Janik to the Scrutiny Committee of Slough Borough Council on 30 October 2002.
Mr Chairman, Ladies and Gentleman,
I am Paul Janik. This evening I am speaking on behalf of the residents of Britwell who wish to keep our Play Centre open. Many of my remarks will also apply to the borough's other Play Centres in Chalvey, Manor Park, Haymill, Langley and Upton Lea.
I wish to thank the chairman for very kindly allocating 10 minutes per Play Centre. Your decision is appreciated and I am grateful.
It is important this Scrutiny Committee makes the right decision based on facts and evidence. Many pertinent facts have not been revealed. I hope I can fill-in some of the missing facts.
Last October a team from Her Majesties Inspectorate of Constabulary visited Slough and District Basic Command Unit, known in simple terms as Slough police station. In their published report 1 the inspection team referred to:
The Britwell estate in Slough has historically been very problematic in terms of crime and disorder 2
the report also mentions:
Thames Valley Police remains one of the lowest funded in England & Wales 3
Slough has a higher than average rate of burglaries 4
Slough has a significant drugs problem with an estimated 150 kilos of heroin coming into the area each month and an estimated 70% of crime being drug-related 5
Slough police deal with large housing estates with distinct social and policing problems 6
Slough is deprived and ranked as 334 out of 366 English local authorities. That means Slough is just 32 places from the bottom of a nation-wide total of 366 places. This is not an enviable statistic.
The proportion of children living in overcrowded households is above average;
For ill health, morbidity and mortality Slough figures are above national averages;
Within the town, the three most deprived areas are Britwell, Chalvey and Stoke.Stoke ward, Ladies and Gentlemen, contains Manor Park's Play Centre.
The Heath Services Research Unit at Oxford University describes Britwell as
a deprived area on the Northern Boundary in Slough 9
The BBC issued a press release 10 on 19 April 2002 stating
there is a portrait of the Britwell Estate in Slough, the supposed 'Bronx of Berkshire'. One of the most deprived areas in the country, Britwell has an awful reputation ...
The South-East England Regional Development Agency (SEEDA) has published a report 11 showing that
Slough has 5 wards in the region's top 10% of most deprived wards. They are: Baylis, Britwell, Chalvey, Stoke & Wexham.
In September last year a team from the Audit Commission and the Department of Health's Social Services Inspectorate stated 12
Of the six ex-Berkshire unitary authorities, Slough has the highest Jarman and Townsend I scores for deprivation.
Deprivation is particularly high in three key estates: Britwell, Chalvey and Stoke.
Slough experiences high levels of homelessness and severe overcrowding in both Council-owned and private housing.
Even Slough Borough Council has admitted things in Slough are not as good as they should be. For example in the Local Transport Plan for Slough 2001-2006 13 this council states:
Slough is the 32nd most deprived district in the country ... It also has a death rate which is significantly higher than both the Berkshire and national averages. 14
Mortality from coronary heart disease in Slough is the highest in Berkshire ... Lung cancer mortality is the worst in Berkshire by 30% 15
Asthma is also a great concern for the Borough Council ... 16
In the council's own COMMUNITY CARE PLAN 2000 17 it acknowledges
Slough is the most deprived part of the former Berkshire 18
Slough is one of the most deprived boroughs in the South of England 19
Slough is one of the most deprived authorities as reflected in its Standard Spending Assessment (money allocated to authorities in relation to local need) 20
In the council's CHILDREN'S SERVICES PLAN 2000 21 the council's concedes:
Sure Start ... a major government initiative to help give children in more deprived areas a good start in life. ... based in the Britwell and Northfields (Do they mean Northborough ?) areas of Slough, which is the most socially excluded area of the town. 22
These reports were written by non-political teams of professional investigators - some in government and others in universities. Their opinion is Britwell is one of the country's most deprived wards - a shocking fact which should shame everyone on the council. Why has Britwell been allowed by the council to sink so low it gets a mentioned in the government's league tables for the worse deprived wards in the whole country ?
The dictionary definition 23 for deprived is:
lacking what is needed for well-being; underprivileged.
Slough Council proposes to take away from Britwell our only facility for the well-being and safety of children in the age group 5 to 13 years. Already on Britwell we have virtually nothing. Nothing at all. And you, the members of this council, want to take away from Britwell what little we have.
Langley has a swimming pool and a sports centre. Britwell doesn't. Cllr Anderson, who was born and brought-up on Britwell according to Cllr Rushby, says "centres have lost their relevance and were doing nothing to solve youth crime" 24
A week later Cllr Anderson admitted he had not mentioned Play Centre closures to the police 25
I've spoken privately to a police inspector, a chief inspector and a more senior police officer. All told me they were alarmed at the Council's decision to close the play centres. The police say street crimes, drug taking, burglary, vandalism and assaults will increased when the Play Centres close.
Who knows more about crime? Cllr Anderson or the police?
Who knows best what the effect on local crime levels will be when the Play Centres close? Cllr Anderson or the police?
Does Cllr Anderson really think crimes will go down when the Play Centres close?
The Commissioner told September's Cabinet meeting, attended by several hundred protesters, the Play Centres cost £ 500,000 per year. The cost in financial year 2000-2001 was £394,320. That is 21% lower 26 I thought at the time her figures sounded unreliable. These figures are in Learning & Cultural Services budget booklet page LC27
Have you considered the extra money and manpower needed to repair vandalism? Oh, I know, repairs come out of a different budget. It is impossible to quantify the financial costs of social upheaval, unrest, increased crime, alarm and distress to elderly residents, disruption in schools caused by drug taking and anti-social behaviour. We haven't got much on Britwell and if you take away what little we have, then we will have absolutely nothing.
Children will continue to be born. As they grow-up they will need a safe place to play, a place to gain social skills, to learn new things in a supervised environment and to meet their friends. Slough's Play Centres have offered these facilities for more than twenty years and have an enviable record of excellence and safety and caring staff.
As more houses and flats are built in Slough there are fewer and fewer places for children to play. Quiet streets become busy main roads with fast moving traffic making it difficult for young children to cross.
If you close the Play Centres you will be forcing children to roam the streets seeking something to do. They will encounter drugs and be vulnerable to vandalism, abduction, personal violence, the bad influences of some much older children, road-traffic injuries and sometimes death.
Some previously good children will eventually become persistent criminal offenders and clogg-up the courts and the prisons. Slough Council doesn't pay the court and prison costs. They are shared by the borough's residents who pay higher taxes as a result. Increased police costs will be added to Council tax, so too will vandalism repair costs.
Children attending Play Centres has less opportunity to get involved in crime, vandalism and anti-social behaviour. Play Centres encourage children to become responsible members of our community. Play Centres are an invaluable asset for the whole community and the whole community will suffer when they close. Evicting children onto the streets at Christmas is not the right solution.
Closing the Play Centres means mothers will no longer be able to work if there is no safe place for their children. The government's priority is for mothers to go to work instead of staying at home on benefits.
Closing Britwell's Play Centre is a short-sighted and false economy. It will cost the council more money, admittedly in different budgets, to close it than keeping it open.
Everyone knows the council has a massive £5.87 budget deficit. Cllr Anderson, himself an accountant, knows the council will become bankrupt unless action is taken. Mind you on 23 April this year he told you councillors
There are currently no plans to cut any services 27
Did you really believed him? It was just before the May elections and he may have decided not to upset the people who vote Labour.
Chris Spencer said when the Play Centres close "We will be looking for even better facilities" 28
Chris Spencer says he has no money so who is going to pay for "even better facilities"?
After School Clubs are proposed but there are many problems with them:
parents will have to pay about £6 per child per evening
parents will have to run them themselves
parents will have to be police checked and that can take more than 6 months because of the massive backlog.
children excluded from schools won't be able to attend
After School Clubs will have less capacity for children and less facilities than Play Centres and many children will be reluctant to stay, after normal school ends, in the same school environment.
The council says it has no money for the borough's children, the disabled or for our elderly residents. Council departments are making cuts. However some parts of the council can afford to make bigger cuts than other parts.
The very expensive Heart of Slough project is entirely funded by unsuspecting council tax payers. More than £1½ million of council money is being poured into pockets of wealthy consultants advising the council on this project. How many Play Centres can we keep open for £1½ million? The answer is: all the Play Centres for more than 3 years.
On 23 April this year Cllr Davidson said in this financial year, 2002-2003, the council is giving away almost £1 million pounds to private consultants advising the council on the Heart of Slough project. The precise figure is £922,000 29
This amount will fund all Slough's Play Centres for two whole years with money left over.
Britwell Play Centres costs £78,890 per year including staff costs and Council Tax.
I question why any Play Centre should pay council tax. This amounts to an absurd tax on small children. How long before the government puts a tax on the number of times a child bounces his or her ball on the ground?
On Britwell we have Sure Start which caters for children up to 4. We also have Positive Steps for children up to 5. Both these organisations do their best but they can not provide continuous provision for the whole duration of every day.
The council is forced by law to provide a youth facility for children 13 and over. On Britwell the council's generosity is so appalling low that Britwell's only youth club in a ward of nearly 4,000 dwellings can open just 2 nights a week. What a scandalous under-usage of the building in a badly deprived area with no facilities.
Now the council want to close our very popular Play Centre which really needs to expand to cope for the tremendous demand. Our Play Centre tries to fill the gap between 5 and 13 years - a period in all children's lives when they are most vulnerable and impressionable and very prone to being lead astray by much older children involved in crimes and other anti-social behaviour.
What exactly does Britwell Play Centre do? It looks after children during the daytime, during early evening time, on Saturdays and in the school holidays. It organises trips for the children. Its facilities are also used for children's parties and its hall hired to older children and adults. It really is part of our community.
It you are determine to close our Play Centre I would sincerely plead with you to postpone the closure date for 6 months to enable our committee to submit a detailed proposal to run the Play Centre as a non-profit community venture. We have support from third parties including central government funded agencies and we need time to submit a business proposal to the council.
I ask each one of you to make an important decision today to help Britwell's deprived children in an area which is acknowledged by government experts to be one of the worse and most deprived wards in the whole country.
Please save our Britwell Play Centre and remember Labour voters all over Slough will remember your decision for many years to come.
This is the end of my speech. Thank you for listening.
Contact details: Paul Janik, 01753-511 911