A controversial 23-year super contract could be the start of a shake-up in grounds maintenance and "further dilute the importance of parks", experts are warning.
On 25 March Trafford Council chose Amey LG to run its joint-venture contract. It was the only bidder to be shortlisted in four lots. Kier MG was on three shortlists, Balfour Beatty Living Places two and incumbent street services contractor Veolia one.
Bidders had to show they could deliver a minimum of 20 per cent savings against the net budget from contract commencement, make further efficiency savings, have flexibility "recognising the challenging financial climate" and "protect jobs and maintain service standards".
Trafford Council leader Sean Anstee said he is confident that Amey is the right choice and residents will see no change in maintenance. "Trafford Council has to realise revenue savings of £57m and we cannot keep up the same level of service without looking at different ways of providing services.
"The contract will be monitored effectively and there are robust measures in place for any breach or less than adequate performance. The executive and I are confident that this is the right thing to do to retain services for residents and protect jobs."
However, parks consultant Dr Sid Sullivan said: "This doesn't offer flexibility. The whole idea that you can sit in an office and forecast the economy is absurd. This is over four Parliaments. The prime minister in charge then could now be in school."
Sullivan added that he has no problem with a parks service being delivered along with other services but said this contract does not allow for political or economic changes. Councils may wish to deliver a green-space service with public health, for example.
National Contractors Forum chairman Phil Jones predicted more mega-contracts as budget cuts bite further. "We're going to see more of parks and green space services lumped into these types of contracts and it won't just be outside services - it will be admin, HR, payroll and IT," he said.
"My main concern is it's further diluting the importance of parks and the focus and importance of what we are doing."
Subcontracting - A massive opportunity
National Contractors Forum chairman Phil Jones said there is "a massive opportunity if people want to work in partnership with these companies to deliver on a subcontracting basis".
But that would mean the grounds maintenance sector will "be at arm's length" from local authorities. To deliver this level of savings, operatives will need to become multiskilled, leaving more opportunities to the horticulturally trained.
Jones added that companies should support The Parks Alliance and others in lobbying to raise the profile of parks.