Speech To Play And Leisure Implementation Group

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Good morning ladies and gentlemen.  Thank you for allowing me some time this morning out of your busy schedule.

As some of you will know, I was at the Time for Play conference in Armagh in October and I found it very useful for me in my role as Junior Minister.  We had two young speakers from the Lower Shankill resident’s group who particularly impressed me and I am arranging to meet with them to talk about their work in more detail.

I mentioned at the conference that my main interest in play from a parent’s perspective is to wonder what my 24 year old son is playing at these days but it’s not that long ago that my wife and I were bringing up our own family.  We are firm believers in the value of play for children and young people and the benefits a happy childhood can bring.

I have been kept abreast of the work you have all been doing over the past few months and it speaks volumes about your commitment to the process that the meetings have run monthly despite your own work obligations.  We are very grateful to you for helping us in this process – we firmly believe it is better to get as many views up front when developing policy – OFMDFM has long been a leader in informal consultation and has been held up as an example for other departments to follow in this regard.

The draft plan you will discuss today has changed in format from what we started out with.  As your work progressed it became clear that one plan would encompass the majority of points and to produce two would only be duplication and would not serve any real purpose.

One of the key drivers in this plan is to change attitudes towards the importance of play and leisure for children and young people.  I see you have suggested engaging with professional bodies with responsibility for design of our towns, cities and housing developments.  I think this is an excellent idea - I have long heard complaints from constituents that there is nowhere for children to play – nowhere for older kids to hang out.  

You will hear, later this morning, details of the exciting work we, in OFMDFM, have started recently with councils.  We have been delighted with the response from the councils – we were pushing at an already open door.  As both a Minister and a local councillor I am very excited at this type of joined-up approach and look forward to visiting the projects when built and to seeing the evaluation reports.

I’m sure if you had the chance you would want to ask me about funding but as you know, Monday is an Assembly day and I have to go back to Stormont.  As you know we are all operating in a very difficult economic climate and departments are constantly being asked to trim their budgets.  The previous Comprehensive Spending Review allocated money in 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 for the development of the Play and Leisure Policy.  
We are hoping to hold on to this money and the intention is to use it to kick start some of the actions in the implementation plan, for example by funding some pilot schemes.

However, from 2011 onwards none of us know at the minute how the Executive will allocate funds.  The only certainty is that the funds available will be strictly limited.  That is why I am glad to see representation at this early stage from our partners in the business community – there are good examples of joint partnership in other parts of the UK and further afield that we can draw on.  In fact we have a good example in Enniskillen where a local businessman gave over an empty shop unit to young people who needed somewhere to go when waiting for buses home after school.

We are optimistic that, by working more closely with councils and sector groups, we can progress the objectives in the implementation plan without always needing new funding – a fact that has been acknowledged already within your sub groups.

So there is still a long way to go before we realise our vision for the Play and Leisure Policy.  Once again, thank you for joining with us in this development process – I hope you have all found it worthwhile and continue to engage with us once your obligation to the group has finished.

Thank you.