Advocacy and data key to parks defence

As the comprehensive spending review inches nearer, and anxiety over its impact on the green space sector grows, last week's Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) gathering of parks professionals in Windsor offered a timely reminder of the weapons every local authority green space professional needs to wield.

First and foremost, relationships forged with elected members over recent years will prove absolutely key when final decisions are made on how cuts are to be shared across services. The good news here, as London Borough of Richmond head of parks David Allister highlighted at the start of his speech to the conference, is that in very many cases those relationships with parks departments are considerably stronger now than they were in the past.

Illustrating the, point Allister asked the audience of green space managers whether their parks had improved over the past 10 years. The overwhelming majority said yes. Asked next whether their relationship with elected members had also improved over that period, again the overwhelming response was yes.

APSE chief executive Mark Bramah, meanwhile, highlighted the power both of the "solid evidence on performance improvement" of green space services to be found in databases such as APSE's own Performance Network, which has already helped many services survive "restructuring" exercises, and the powerful body of research proving the positive impact quality green space has on the health of communities, environmental issues and local economies.

Other positives highlighted included the promise of greater financial autonomy, following a pledge by communities secretary Eric Pickles to introduce a "power of general competence" for local authorities in the autumn. The new power, it is hoped, will untie council hands to unleash new delivery models.

None of this, of course, will be enough to stop the cuts juggernaut. As Bramah noted, councils have already drawn up paper plans to meet between 25 and 40 per cent cuts across the board. But if managers go armed with every scrap of evidence to hand - and work those improved communication channels with elected members - green space services will at least stand a fighting chance.

Kate Lowe, editor. Email: kate.lowe@haymarket.com

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