Consultant backs smart move by London council

The London Borough of Southwark's move to lengthen and expand its new grounds maintenance contract is a smart one, according to parks consultant Andrew Gill.

Parks consultant Andrew Gill (HW)
Parks consultant Andrew Gill (HW)

Southwark has tendered a seven-year contract, plus possible seven-year extension, to start in October 2016. It covers 97 parks and seven education sites, with Southwark also carrying out a major parks investment programme up until 2024.

Quadron has been Southwark's grounds maintenance contractor since 1996, and most recently had its contract extended for 18 months until 2016 to give council staff time to assess the borough's long-term parks procurement strategy.

Other borough councils were surveyed and market research was conducted with five grounds maintenance companies to gauge current contract practice. Neighbouring boroughs were also approached about the possibility of joint procurement.

As well as horticulture and grounds maintenance, the contract will also include more services, among them cemetery maintenance and grave digging, which was previously provided by Quadron under a separate contract. The contractor will also be expected to work with volunteer groups to make savings. In March, council staff estimated that the new contract would be worth £2.8m annually - around £39m over 14 years.

Andrew Gill, who is a director of consultancy Greenspace Management, pointed out that Southwark has historically had a high spend on parks and has scope to make savings.

"It makes sense to bundle similar services together where there may be real economies of scale in the same contractor delivering those services," he said.

He added that the timescale of the contract will also allow the contractor to invest in plant and equipment, amortising the cost over the life of the contract.

But he said: "Much depends on the effectiveness of the procurement process in terms of selecting the right contractor and, of course, the client's skills in managing the contractor. In my experience the worst contractual relationships are built on the lowest-cost option.

"Such contracts often include 'capital investment improvements' by the contractor, which is often merely a way of the council ring-fencing the spend they would otherwise have made within the contract sum - the council still pays, of course."

Such contracts can work well, particularly if they are negotiated with an existing provider with a proven track record, he said.

- Registrations of interest are due by 6 November - see

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