Veolia Environmental Services has started the grounds maintenance element of a larger £9m "joined-up" contract that could last for 16 years in Brent.
Brent Council said it made savings by combining cleansing, waste collection and grounds maintenance into one nine-year public realm contract with a seven-year extension option. The grounds maintenance element, including burials, cemeteries and grass verges, is worth £3m to French-owned multinational Veolia.
A total of 78 staff were transferred under TUPE rules and Veolia will continue to employ two apprentices. Grounds maintenance manager Paul Hutchinson, who transferred from council employ, said there would be "some restructuring taking place" but was unable to reveal details of the plans.
"It has yet to be finalised but it will be a minor tweak rather than a full-scale restructuring," he added. Instituting "more joined-up working" and ending "demarcation lines" between departments will mean more flexibility and cross-service working that will "lead to improvement across the whole of the public realm" as well as saving money.
But Hutchinson insisted that does not mean horticulturists will become street sweepers or vice versa. Specialist roles will remain but instead of only litter picking inside a park his team will also be expected to pick from adjacent streets. Similarly, street-sweeping colleagues will come onto green space.
"It's more wholesome and holistic," he said. "If we have a big item of fly-tipping, for example, we have the equipment in house to remove it. Previously the grounds team had to put a request in to another part of the council to remove the rubbish. Now it will be quicker.
"The staff have taken it quite well. They're absolutely fine. A lot of them are thinking about an element of job safety - as Government funding is being cut, some of them are mindful of that."
He added that "horticultural standards will be the same or higher" and there are no plans to institute money-saving policies currently being used in other councils such as less frequent grass cutting or flower meadows.
Community engagement - Key to strategies
Veolia sponsored London in Bloom this year and sees community engagement as an important part of its armoury.
Grounds maintenance manager Paul Hutchinson said: "We see this as key to develop our strategies across all of our portfolio. The London in Bloom sponsorship raises our profile in the sector and enables us to engage with our peers within the horticultural realm."
Hutchinson's team is keen to "sustain and improve" links with community groups with which they have been working for some years - running planting days, lending equipment and offering tips and support.