Nottingham City Council has saved £152m over the past five years and must find a further £20.5m of savings for 2016-17, including £500,000 from the parks department. Head of parks Eddie Curry said the next few years are set to be difficult but his department is benefiting from early adoption of alternative funding models.
"Our strategy over the last three-to-five years has not been to think about budget cuts, it's been very much about raising income. That's created new partnerships: we started entering the horticulture retail market; we commercialised our horticulture nursery so it doesn't just grow for the council, it grows for six other local authorities now, and sells direct to public.
"Our cafes and facilities are all being rehashed, redeveloped and now being heavily marketed to attract more people to spend in our parks. We have a host of other sports facilities and other concessions that make a difference. So we're not starting from a standing point."
Curry is setting up a parks trust to help with external funding that can be reinvested in capital budgets. "In Nottingham we are very fortunate to have a great, very energised community who are interested and very passionate about parks. We try and work alongside those people to try and drive the agenda and let them be our voice to let them say things we can't necessarily say," he said.
"I'm trying to get the team excited about the innovation agenda. We don't waste all our time browbeating. We stress ourselves out about: 'Will this plan work?' That's probably more energetic and a better focus for their time and energy."
Curry freely admits that Nottingham is lucky to have a diverse resource portfolio. "We have some world-class heritage facilities," he pointed out. "I have a 100-berth marina and facilities adjacent to big sporting venues so parking income pours in. Not everybody's got the same portfolio and it starts in a very different place."
He added: "We had a very large team to begin with and we've managed to retain it pretty much uncut. So we have still got capacity to drive these things forward.
"That's where I feel for some of these smaller authorities who just don't have any people - the specialist architect, the development officer who can write bids, the marketing person driving the income. It's about the capacity to drive these innovation projects. Everything takes time and that's probably the bigger threat to people's ability."
Cutbacks - Parks departments facing up to vanishing budgets
Several parks departments are looking at having no budget before the end of this parliament. In Liverpool, it has been recognised that there will not be enough money to fund statutory services by 2017-18, let alone non-statutory services such as parks.
An interim report from the Strategic Green & Open Spaces Review Board, headed by environmentalist and former Brookside actor Simon O’Brien, suggested more than 30 options for funding the city’s parks, including introducing a £4.50 park tax. The final report is due out shortly.
Newcastle is in a similar position, with councillors saying they will not be able to fund non-statutory services within two years. The city is working on transferring the running of its principal parks to a charitable trust, which would make them eligible for more grant funding.
Lancashire County Council is also warning that it may have to cut its statutory services in two years after it uses up its reserves. It has announced £65m of savings for 2016-17 but must still find a further £200m of savings by 2020.