Parks chiefs urged to focus on community and health benefits as funding deals loom

Parks chiefs must fight cost-cutting by arguing that green spaces have community and health benefits that take them beyond their non-statutory designation, if they are to keep redundancies to a minimum, according to park experts.

Sheffield: 20-year strategy in place  Image: Sheffield City Council
Sheffield: 20-year strategy in place Image: Sheffield City Council

Councils are due to begin to announce the number of jobs under threat following last month's comprehensive spending review. The GMB union said 21 local authorities had announced that 30,000 jobs across all services will go after budget decisions on 1 December.

Despite the gloom, Sheffield City Council parks director Mary Bagley said she was looking at the anticipated 30 per cent funding cuts as "an opportunity". She added that job losses were inevitable but: "We see this as a big opportunity to see how we can improve our service."

She explained that Sheffield is one of the greenest cities in England: "We have a very strong 20-year green and open spaces strategy already agreed by cabinet. Having such a strong, innovative document is incredibly helpful."

Bagley said emphasising parks as a "preventative health service" was important. She has made links with the local health trust, 170 parks friends groups, events organisers and the third sector and is working on quantifying parks' value with Sheffield University.

Nottingham City Council parks head Eddie Curry said: "There will be some big hits. We have some huge targets. No stone will be left unturned across our services." He said the council was trying to absorb cuts over three years, adding that externally funded capital schemes were ring-fenced. This "enables us to hold the service together. It is coming down to delivering the council's core priorities."

Association for Public Service Excellence principal adviser Mo Baines said parks heads must stress the value to communities and to health of parks services, placing themselves in the "bigger picture rather than just being seen as non-statutory services".

She said: "Parks managers and front-line staff are of course fearful about the future but they also recognise that parks are among the most valued services by members of the public.

"The contributions of parks to health and well-being, family leisure activities and accessible environments for old and young alike are huge benefits to communities."

A Local Government Association representative said: "A lot of councils are still going through the early stages of how they will set budgets for next year."

The Government will let councils know how much they will receive for the 2011-12 financial year in December. Budgets will be finalised in February, ahead of sending out council tax bills in April.

Parks consultant Sid Sullivan said: "People are trying to find savings without affecting too many staff. Voluntary redundancy and early retirement are less painful."

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