Parks managers see benefit in department mergers but critics fear erosion of status

Green space managers say they are benefiting from cost-saving mergers with street scene departments despite initial scepticism but critics have warned that the move will damage parks' importance.

Calderdale Council was one of a number of local authorities that combined their parks and street scene departments last year as part of wider efficiency measures.

Manager of the new Safer Cleaner Greener department Deborah Wright said despite her initial doubts they now offered a more comprehensive service. "It gives us a more responsive and flexible workforce," she said.

Staff in the department are now trained in the same disciplines through in-house processes, apprenticeships and NVQ courses and employed on a scale according to qualifications.

Wright said the broader skills base enabled the department to generate income by competing for maintenance contracts with organisations such as supermarkets or retail parks. "We now have a competitive edge because we are able to offer a complete outdoor solution," she explained.

Coventry City Council, which also merged its street scene and parks departments last year, created an annual saving of £350,000 by cutting its vehicle numbers and designing 11 purpose-built multi-use vehicles.

Area manager of the new Streetpride department Greg Gavin said designing the bespoke vehicles and merging the teams saved jobs and money. "We combined all the equipment for maintenance and waste in one vehicle and merged what were two teams working simultaneously into one team working two shifts." Further savings were made through increasing the number of street-sweepers on foot, he added.

Gavin said this was the most effective of many options considered. "We looked at other local authorities and felt that the best in terms of delivery and engagement were those with merged services and it is working really well," he pointed out.

But parks campaigner Alan Barber said the two services had no common purpose. "Street cleaning is not multifunctional, does not relate people to nature and employs very low skill levels. It is very difficult to focus on the purpose of a service and its value to people if the main consideration is on combining maintenance tasks."

He added: "I see no real future in this kind of administration. We need greater discretion in spending decisions, not less."

Parks consultant Stewart Harding agreed. "It is all about saving money and no-one is questioning whether it really is the parks we should be saving money on," he said. "We will end up with different parks from the ones we want. They will just be neat, maintained places instead of being parks that are a dynamic part of our social lives."

MERGED SERVICES

Scarborough Borough Council - Combining street cleansing and parks from 1 April.

Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council - Merging street scene and parks services this spring (see p10).

Bristol City Council - Combined parks and street cleansing into environmental leisure last year.

Aylesbury Vale District Council - Considering options to combine services but no plans yet.

Newcastle City Council - Combined grounds maintenance and street cleansing in 2009.

Buckinghamshire County Council - Looking at other more efficient models to run parks but will not combine with street cleaning.


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