Tales From England – The Playground Tax
When you return to your home country after a while away, changes in mindset do not creep up on you, but tend to slap you in the face.
As excitement mounts in advance of next year’s London Olympics, the London Borough of Wandsworth has decided that its adventure playground facilities will no longer be free. They have introduced a pilot scheme for their Battersea Park Adventure Playground that involves each child between five and fifteen having to pay £2.50 to use the playground.
The council justifies this piece of summer madness on the grounds that thousands of kids from outside the borough use the facility. This, they say, places an unfair burden on Council Tax payers within the borough. Plus they’re strapped for cash thanks to the government funding cutbacks. The story in the London Evening Standard is here. I understand that a number of other councils across the country are thinking about following Wandsworth’s example.
So a parent and his or her three kids visiting the playground four times a week after school would be charged £30 ($45) per week. Therefore the most likely scenario is that kids from wealthy families will continue to use the playground, and the rest will run around the grass outside, slipping on dog turds and having their heads knocked off by stray footballs. Or worse still, playing on the streets among speeding cars and delivery vans.
If I were a parent who regularly visits that playground, I would ask the council a few questions:
- Since when did London become a set of little empires that think it’s OK to tax the use of facilities that clearly aid the fitness, development and confidence of the kids that use them?
- The Government gives every council a large dollop of taxpayer’s money to supplement the money councils raise from householders. Does that money not more than subsidise a facility that should be available for all, regardless of ability to pay?
- By their accountant’s logic, why does the council not also charge outsiders for roads, seats at bus stops and public conveniences (if any used for their original purpose still exist)? In fact why don’t they co-opt Ryanair’s management team to parse each and every service the council provides and charge individually for them (see my recent post on that wonderful airline)?
Joined-up government this is not. We in the UK launch initiatives to provide healthier food at schools, to inspire kids to strive for athletic excellence through the Olympics, and these dolts with more letters behind their names than cells in their brains want to charge kids for swings, chutes and for scrambling around play houses.
I know I sound like one of those Mr Angry columnists beloved of the British tabloids. But there are times when I wonder how we can boast about our education system when its graduates come up with such prime examples of uncritical thinking. And if this kind of thinking is a typical example of how the UK is going about reducing its deficit, then I wonder whether we’re finally losing that quality of which we Brits have always been so proud – our common sense.