Back contractors' skills efforts

The Heritage Lottery Fund's State of UK Public Parks report, published this summer, brought to the fore the universality of the risks facing parks across the UK following a decline in public spending "potentially greater and more rapid than that faced during the late 1970s to early 1990s".

The loss of skilled parks management staff across the UK (cited by 81 per cent of councils), the discovery of growing cuts to capital budgets (63 per cent) and confirmation of yet more cuts to revenue budgets to come (87 per cent), were among the key concerns highlighted in the findings.

One of the untold stories has been the pressures that those spending cuts have brought to bear on grounds care contractors, the best of whom have worked incredibly hard for many years to support apprenticeships and staff training initiatives to the extent that in many areas they have provided a last line of defence against the almost total loss of the traditional parks careers path.

In some cases the pressures have spawned innovative new approaches to contracting of benefit to all parties involved. In far too many, the knee-jerk response of councils has been to squeeze every drop they can from their contractor "partners" who are today responsible for delivering nearly half of all parks services.

The comments of Glendale Managed Services managing director Andy Corcoran, highlighting the potential threat from the "price-focused tender model" to sustainable contracting and skills development in the sector, will not surprise those engaged in the sector (see news, p5).

"It is of critical importance to the industry that the workforce, which has an ageing profile, has new employees brought in," warns Corcoran. It's a message that needs to be taken urgently to elected members across the UK.

- kate.lowe@haymarket.com


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