Fury Over Decision To Close Play Centres

Children in Cardiff are being left out in the cold after a decision to close seven city play centres. The play schemes across Cardiff will close for a week on a rota basis because of a shortage of staff. It comes after Cardiff council announced a temporary freeze on staff recruitment after it announced it was facing a £7.1m overspend in its budget. It hoped the freeze on filling vacant posts and delays in appointing new staff will save around £369,000. But the news has come as a second major hammer blow to children’s facilities in Cardiff.

Last week it was revealed that 10 council-run play areas in the city would lose either some or all of their play equipment because they failed health and safety checks. Monireul Alam, a taxi driver, from Splott, Cardiff, who takes his 13-year-old son Mohammed to the Riverside centre three times a week, said: “I just paid my council tax and what for? I want to know where the council is spending my money. I am angry. Where will my child go now? There’s nowhere.”

Cathays High School pupil Mohammed added: “I feel terrible it won’t be open. I like seeing my friends.”

Shopkeeper Jalal Choudhury, 35, who works in Ninian Park Road and takes his 11-year-old son Sayeed to the Riverside centre, said: “He likes seeing the other children there.”

Restaurant worker and father of eight Sikandar Miah, whose two sons, aged 12 and 13, go to the centre every day after school, added: “If it closes next week, I have got a problem.”

The centres, which have an open access policy for youngsters to come and go as they please, offer play for children aged five to 14, after school and during the day throughout school holidays. Each centre is visited an average of 300 times a week, although some children may come and go a few times an evening.

Riverside councillor Mohammed Islam said: “The centre is very well used. There is currently only one centre for children in the area. The council has enough money to spend on consultation exercises but not enough to spend on a scheme for children.”

A spokeswoman for the council’s culture, leisure and parks service, said: “It was felt that rather than just close one centre where there were staff shortages it was fair to move staff around the city, so that each facility was treated evenly. The situation is under constant review, but it was felt best to make an early decision, so that all concerned had as much notice as possible of the planned closures.”

The spokeswoman added that it was always difficult to find trained, staff for its play centres. “At the best of times we have difficulty recruiting a full complement of trained and Criminal Records Bureau checked play workers. We naturally apologise for any inconvenience caused.”

Coun John Dixon, executive member for health, social care and wellbeing, added: “It’s never nice to have to rob Peter to pay Paul, but this is money that needs to be spent caring for vulnerable older people, people with learning and physical disabilities and people with mental health issues. We’ve kept the cuts in the play service to the absolute minimum we can, and made sure that no one scheme is singled out. Every service area of the council is having to make hard decisions like this, but it’s to make sure that we don’t fail in our responsibility to care for the most vulnerable people in the city.”