Tough times continuing as study sees managers fearing more cuts

Most managers think cuts affect parks and green spaces disproportionately to other services.

Parks: health and social impacts
Parks: health and social impacts

Nearly a fifth of parks managers expect to lose up to 50 per cent of their budget over the next five years, according to a recent survey.

Almost all (99 per cent) of respondents to the study by the Association for Public Service Excellence expect to lose budget over the next five years, with 18 per cent anticipating cuts of between 20 and 50 per cent.

The annual Parks & Green Space State of the Market survey found the majority of parks managers (75 per cent) think the cuts are affecting parks and green spaces disproportionately to other service areas.

A total of 60 per cent expect to lose jobs through natural wastage, 46 per cent through voluntary redundancy, 46 per cent through a freeze on recruitment and 24 per cent through compulsory redundancies. Only 19 per cent expect no job losses.

In future, 80 per cent foresee reduced maintenance, 75 per cent a reduction in formal bedding, floral displays, shows, bowling greens and other amenity areas while 71 per cent expect a reduction in service or standards.

Respondents are also concerned about the impact of these changes. A total of 93 per cent think the lack of investment in parks and green spaces will have health and social impacts, 75 per cent agree there is a clear link between parks/play provision and levels of crime/anti-social behaviour and 77 per cent believe cuts have led to a withdrawal of maintenance on some land and an increase in unmaintained land.

Picking up the slack are volunteers - 84 per cent said they are involved with 68 per cent saying it is increasing. Of volunteer involvement, 44 per cent is in horticultural work, 30 per cent in bedding/flower displays and 24 per cent in income generation.

Five per cent are even managing parks, with respondents expecting an increase in involvement in all areas. But almost all of those questioned (98 per cent) still think there is a limit to the extent to which volunteers can be involved.

Despite the pressures, nearly half of all respondents are still not raising income other than from park users. The survey found that 33 per cent sold services to the private sector, 27 per cent to other local authorities, 32 per cent to other public sector bodies and 48 per cent sold no outside services.

Over the next two-to-three years, 76 per cent intend to increase fees for sports pitch lettings, 57 per cent for allotments, 49 per cent for festivals and events and 47 per cent for bowling greens, along with almost all other services. But 89 per cent believe the public should still get free access to parks.

Tough times - Huge pressure on budgets

Presenting the findings at the Association for Public Service Excellence parks and green spaces conference in Harrogate, head of communications and coordination Mo Baines said tough times are set to continue.

"There's still huge pressure on budgets. We're seeing a rise in income generation, such as pitch rentals and festivals, as well as selling nursery products.

"There is a need for innovation and new sources of funding. The sector needs to assert its value beyond frontline service delivery. Parks cannot be seen just as a service in isolation."

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