Budget squeeze sees Harlow Council set up trading operation to deliver grounds maintenance service

Harlow Council has established a local authority trading company to provide its grounds maintenance alongside a number of other services.

First Avenue Harlow. Image: Copyright John Salmon/Creative Commons/Geograph
First Avenue Harlow. Image: Copyright John Salmon/Creative Commons/Geograph

HTS (Property and Environment) Ltd, incorporated at Companies House on 24 December 2015, will undertake housing repairs, street cleaning, grass, hedge and shrub cutting, planting and weed spraying on public land in the Essex town from 1 February after the current 10-year contract with Kier Harlow expires on 31 January 2017.

Kier Harlow is itself a joint venture partnership between the council and Kier Support Services (now called Kier Services) formed in February 2007.

The change has been driven by the council’s budget cuts for the 2017/18 financial year, when it has to find £1.3  million in savings following a cut in its Government grant of more than £630,000, a 15.9 per cent year-on-year reduction and a total cut of 51.7 per cent since 2013/14.

The council believes it can avoid closures or service cuts. It is also raising its share of council tax by 1.99 per cent.

In a statement Harlow Council said it wanted to protect spending on residents’ priorities, such as "parks, playgrounds and grass cutting, tackling anti-social behaviour, regeneration and economic development and street cleaning".

It plans to save just over £1.1m by deleting vacant posts, reducing office, printing and equipment costs and raise more income through garage rents and land charges income from property sales.  

Leader of Harlow Council, councillor Jon Clempner, said: "Our priority is to do what we can to ensure our services are not taken away from residents and no council staff are made redundant."

The council made the decision to establish the company in 2015, after an independent appraisal found it was the option which represented the best value for money and was cheapest, while maintaining quality of services.

Clempner said at the time that the council needed "to be in a position and have the flexibility to meet the financial uncertainties we face in future rather than being tied to a long-term financial contract" and noted that any profits would go to the council rather than to a private company.

The budget proposals for 2017/18 will be put before the council’s cabinet on Thursday and be voted on by the full council on 2 February. Since 2011/12 the council has cut more than £11m from its budget.

2017 marks the 70th anniversary of the creation of Harlow’s masterplan by Frederick Gibberd, whose garden is open to the public. One of the first New Towns, it was designed to have more than a third of its footprint as green space.

Gibberd designed ‘Green Wedges’ designed to provide open space for wildlife and recreation and to separate neighbourhoods. Now 23% of the district is designated as Green Wedge and they are protected from inappropriate development, through the Local Plan.  

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