Survey shows deeper cuts for green space

Almost half of local authority green space teams face deeper budget cuts than those imposed elsewhere in their organisation, latest research has revealed.

Parks maintenance has become a casualty of local authority cuts - image: HW
Parks maintenance has become a casualty of local authority cuts - image: HW

The survey by environmental charity GreenSpace on the impact of the comprehensive spending review found that 46 per cent of respondents needed to find a greater percentage of savings than the council as a whole.

Of the 63 councils that responded to the online survey, carried out in March, just 11 per cent reported no budget cuts. One-third of the 82 per cent forced to cut spending face reductions of between 20 and 50 per cent.

Other figures revealed 80 per cent of respondents were cutting staff. A third reported front-line job losses while 17 per cent were shedding skilled horticulturists. Only 20 per cent did not expect standards of work to fall and nearly three-quarters said maintenance work would be reduced.

GreenSpace general manager Dave Tibbatts, who is running the survey on an ongoing basis, said the biggest concern was the loss of staff. "We already know we have an aging workforce and a serious skills shortage and this is only going to compound the problem," he said.

The study also showed three-quarters of respondents planned to merge most or all of their green space units with other service areas as part of a broader delivery unit, a trend Tibbatts said was a worry.

"The risk is that skilled staff will be diluted into a team controlled by generic management where the parks leaders will just disappear along with their knowledge."

But opportunities could be gleaned from the situation, he continued. "People will eventually realise they need the skills so although it will mean we have to start from scratch, we will get new blood into the sector."

Parks consultant Sid Sullivan blamed the disproportionate budget cuts on poor advocacy. "If councillors feel they can reduce the service by these amounts then they have not been persuaded that our parks provide the value for money they do," he said.

He added that parks managers must fight for funding and highlighted the "significant savings" stored by many councils as a potential source. "A lot of councils are sitting on huge reserves. We should be persuading them to use it to support services that benefit people's health and environmental richness. It would be a good investment."

GreenSpace is encouraging more responses to the survey and aims to develop an annual "state of the nation" report for the sector. To take part or to read the interim report, see www.green-space.org.uk/csrsurvey.

KEYSTATS

How green space services are being affected by local authority spending cuts

75% to merge most or all of the parks service with other areas

70% to reduce maintenance including litter clearing and grass cutting

49% to reduce staff training


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