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Union warns cuts to Camden play services are ‘in chaos’

PUBLISHED: 09:05 24 January 2012 | UPDATED: 16:54 24 January 2012

George Binette, branch secretary of Camden Unison

George Binette, branch secretary of Camden Unison

Archant

Camden Council’s plans to slash play provision are “in chaos” leaving voluntary groups poised to take over many services without a proper handover, a trade union has warned.

Camden Council announced last February it is slicing more than two thirds from its play and after-school clubs budget, as it introduces a reduced service model costing just £1.5million.

A year later employees are still waiting to find out who will be made redundant and how the authority plans to negotiate the transition.

George Binette, Camden branch secretary for Unison trade union, said: “Certainly I am concerned about the winding up of programmes that were particularly aimed at disabled children or those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“I think there is a legitimate concern about the level of training provided to new staff.

“It is an issue about the adequacy of training and offering a sufficient programme to staff to retain people with relevant experience.”

The council is in talks with voluntary groups about taking over the running of some of the service.

But Mr Binette said there was a lack of a “coherent handover” and added “I am inclined to think that the council has exacerbated potential problems for the children affected”.

Many play services will close at the end of March with more shutting in August, and 140 workers will be made redundant under the controversial cuts.

An employee who works for Camden play service, but did not want to be named, said the transfer was “chaotic” behind the scenes.

The source said: “I would be very worried about the quality of the structures for children.

“Voluntary groups have been providing services to local children within their community - not ten to fifteen children who are referred by social workers.

“The structures aren’t in place. The level of change for children is going to be very, very difficult.”

But the council has rigorously defended the transition, which it said was necessary because of deep budget cuts.

A report detailing the transition was due to be discussed at Camden Council last night (Wednesday, January 18).

The report says that “no significant impact to children with disabilities has been highlighted during the screening, as the proposed services will continue to be provided at a similar level to current provision”.

A Camden Council spokeswoman said redundancy packages are being finalised and a range of training is provided to voluntary groups.

She said: “The cabinet report sets out how the decision to procure a play service from the voluntary and community sector will be implemented. It would therefore have been premature to undertake transitional work that pre-empted this decision.”

“Numerous meetings have taken place with Camden’s voluntary sector play providers to discuss the possibilities for the new service.”

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