Parks plan triggers opposition

Waste company appointed to contract out parks service as Merton Council aims to cut costs.

Merton Council has caused a storm locally by proposing to contract out its parks service together with waste management services and employing a waste company to conduct the tender.

The local authority has engaged the South London Waste Partnership at a cost of £35,000 to find a contractor for a combined waste and green-space maintenance service. The council said this will help with £32m of savings it must make in the next financial year.

Nearly 1,000 people have signed an online petition against the move. An angry public meeting was held last week and the decision has been called before the council's scrutiny committee.

Conservative opposition councillor David Dean, who is leading the campaign, said the move is neither appropriate nor necessary because Merton is one of the richest boroughs in London.

But Merton cabinet member for environmental sustainability and regeneration Andrew Judge said the local authority is making the move as "a responsible council" faced with Government cuts to local authority funding.

"The South London Waste Partnership has huge expertise and experience in procuring contracts and will get the best deal for all the partnership boroughs and the taxpayer," he added. "It will ensure that the company it commissions has excellent knowledge of horticulture and a good track record of looking after green spaces."

Parks consultant Dr Sid Sullivan said few facilities management companies offer the necessary expertise. "Few companies that offer such services have managed to cope with the complexities of landscape management beyond programmed maintenance," he added. "Indeed, many have also introduced 'patch' working and have expected operatives to multitask.

"For the parks service - by far the most complex of the two in question - it is a further example of providing a basic service that is subsequently dumbed down and infilled with friends groups."

Sullivan agreed with Glendale Managed Services boss Andy Corcoran's comments (HW, 28 November) that in some areas prices are so low that they are threatening the ability to provide a sustainable service. "Economies of scale are much harder to procure and sustain over time," said Sullivan. "It is, of course, the community's health and well-being that will suffer, not just parks."

National Federation of Parks & Green Spaces vice-chairman Dave Morris said: "Such departments are now under threat all over the country because of the chronic underfunding of local councils by central Government, causing cuts, fragmentation, privatisation, loss of trained and committed staff and poor maintenance and management."

London Councils Severe impact predicted

According to research by think tank London Councils, cuts vary across the capital, with some authorities considering 50 per cent budget cuts.

A spokesman said: "In the last two years, 50 per cent of park managers' posts have been lost and as a non-statutory service the impact of further budget restrictions is likely to be severe, leading to poor quality, neglect and consideration of disposal.

"Some parks are already looking neglected. Others are taking very high levels of revenue-generating events to make up funding shortfalls that are beginning to have longer-term impacts on infrastructure."

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