Councils satisfied with mix of parks models

Local authorities appear to be broadly satisfied with how their parks maintenance is carried out - whether outsourced to a contractor, in-house staff or even volunteer groups.

Parks: general satisfaction with maintenance work - image: Pixabay
Parks: general satisfaction with maintenance work - image: Pixabay

That is one of the findings emerging from a study by University of Sheffield researchers Dr Nicola Dempsey and Mel Burton into different models of green-space maintenance.

Other findings indicate that 70 per cent of respondents have in-house providers carrying out some work, while 55 per cent use private contractors. Forty-two per cent of respondents give some work to community groups while 21 per cent use national or third-sector organisations.

Burton said she was "surprised" to find that "there is general satisfaction with all provider types across all measures", including quality of service provision, cost, flexibility, responsiveness, development and innovation as well as the delivery of long-term objectives.

"There was very little variation between different types of providers. In-house was perhaps slightly better but it was not necessarily statistically significant - so people are generally satisfied," she said.

The researchers stressed that these are only interim findings. A relatively low response rate and small data sets mean they need to dig deeper into the numbers before drawing conclusions about trends in UK green-space management. Averaged figures could also hide major deviations between different regions and different types of local authorities.

The survey was carried out last year as part of a wider comparative study with Sweden, Norway and Denmark, with European researchers keen to draw lessons from the UK's years of experience of outsourcing public-sector grounds maintenance.

Other findings of interest include comparisons between in-house and outsourced work. A higher percentage of local authorities are planning to move over to outsourcing than are planning to move work back in-house, while increasing numbers say some parks work is being carried out by community groups. A full 50 per cent of respondents are planning to give some work to community groups in the future.

Unsurprisingly, 75 per cent reported that there have been significant management changes over the past five years, with 82 per cent predicting major change in the next five years. However, only two-thirds reported they had had budgets cut - while some said they were static or even had increased parks budgets. The researchers said they need to look at these figures more carefully because it was thought to be a given that everyone had lost budget resources.

The findings are set to be published in a peer-reviewed paper later this year, with the pair hoping their final analysis of the data can be used by local authorities in their decision-making.

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