Play Strategy

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 4:22 pm on 15th March 2006.

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Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Scottish National Party 4:22 pm, 15th March 2006

I congratulate Ken Macintosh on securing the debate and on his excellent exposition of the case for a play strategy for Scotland. It is clear that our policy development in this area is lagging behind that of other comparable nations, most notably Wales, where the Assembly has produced an action plan to implement its policies, which we would do well to emulate.

The core aim of the Assembly's plan is to ensure that all children and young people have access to a range of play, leisure, sporting and cultural activities, regardless of their home background and family circumstances. In so doing, it fulfils article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

It is to our shame that we are far from meeting that obligation. One of the main reasons for that has been our failure to listen to what our children have been telling us. Kathleen Marshall, Scotland's commissioner for children and young people, last month sent us all the results of a consultation that she had conducted with 16,000 young people. Top of their list of priorities for action was a plea for more things to do and for activities that are affordable and accessible to all, including those with disabilities, and which are designed by young people themselves in co-operation with trusted adults. Young people said that they wanted to be recognised as an integral part of their communities and to have access to community facilities. Surely that is not too much to ask. Save the Children, in one of the many excellent briefings that we received for this debate, points to successful projects of that kind, which have met expressed needs.

Other issues need to be addressed as well. Ken Macintosh said that opportunities for unstructured play had been reducing because of a combination of factors. Parental fears about child safety have been growing and the availability of local open space has been shrinking.

When no less an authority than Walter Smith, our national football team's manager, visited the Parliament last year, he bemoaned the loss of traditional means of developing football skills and talent, such as kickabouts in the streets and parks.

Children living in poverty are particularly disadvantaged by the shrinking of free, locally available play spaces. The negative impact on children's development cannot be overstated. I believe that play deprivation is a key factor in the rising number of children who arrive at primary school with social, emotional and behavioural problems. They are the battery children to whom Ken Macintosh referred.

There is an overwhelming case for early intervention strategies and the provision of universal services in the pre-school years, from birth onwards. The Scandinavian model of comprehensive pre-school play, care and education services provides a suitable template for consideration. Unfortunately, after an encouraging start with the extension of pre-school provision, the Executive's early years strategies appear now to have stalled. I hope that the minister will address that concern, as it relates to the motion, when he sums up at the end of this important debate.