Richmond studies business examples for ideas to help parks cope with budget cuts

Taking ideas from business and engaging with the public will help parks departments deal with the recession, according to the London Borough of Richmond's head of parks and open spaces.

David Allister said he is taking a proactive approach to dealing with possible budget cuts by planning an investment strategy. "We have set ourselves in a very strong position and are relatively safe but we know there are efficiencies coming," he explained. "How do we deal with that looking into the future?"

Although the local authority set up a £3.7m parks improvement fund in 2005, which runs alongside a £500,000-a-year playground improvement scheme, Allister warned that his department cannot afford to be complacent.

The money is due to run out next year, but the parks department must continue to show residents and politicians the value of investing in the borough's green spaces.

"Other boroughs will look at us and the money we have to spend, but the key is the politicians," he explained.

"Richmond is an affluent borough but there are also a lot of young families and children who all use the parks. It is a visible service and the politicians have seen that an element of the community not really interested in politics has seen massive investment in the facilities they use and they are voting."

The south west London borough is also facing a £14m squeeze on spending over the next three years. It plans to combat this by running events in its green spaces - through which it currently raises £60,000 each year.

In addition, the local authority has formed partnerships with "fit equipment" manufacturers to loan kit for six-month periods. The council has pledged to fund half of the cost of buying equipment if the community can raise the rest.

Allister commented: "We are also exploring new ways of thinking in local authorities. For example, employing someone on a basic wage and giving them a percentage of the money they bring in as sponsorship. It is taking ideas from business and using them in a local authority."


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