Council shake-up sparks 'serious concerns'

As Westminster council moves to a new way of working by axing traditional departments and focusing on procuring services, parks experts fear "calamitous results" if the trend starts to bite.

Driven by the pressing need to cut costs, more local authorities are likely to follow in Westminster's footsteps towards strategic commissioning, London Parks & Green Spaces Forum director Tony Leach has argued.

"This goes a step further than compulsory competitive tendering (CCT) by commissioning everything out," he explained.

"Local authorities are clearly going to have to become much more lean, which means the traditional 'parks department' will continue on its slippery slope to becoming a redundant term. But it must be done intelligently, rather than reducing horticultural skills."

GreenSpace chief executive Paul Bramhill told HW he has some serious concerns about the changes.

"If this trend does start to bite, it could have an equally calamitous impact as CCT," he said.

"Westminster is genuinely trying to look at radical ways of doing things but you are going to end up with parks down the pecking order. I am not sure where the strategic thinking will be in terms of green-space strategies."

The Westminster City Council document was published last month and outlines a "strategic commissioning cycle" that aims to identify the priorities of the community, specify services to meet those needs and then procure and monitor the services.

Parks consultant Alan Barber said: "The Westminster document mentions 'delivery' 21 times in a blizzard of Blair-speak, but 'parks' only once.

"Anyone who moves parks out of 'community services' and into 'procurement and contract support' needs their head examined. This is just a bureaucratic mess."

In other local authorities, changes are taking place that aim to improve efficiency while keeping services in-house. Scarborough Borough Council's nursery and training officer John Featherstone told HW his own local authority was currently going through a reorganisation that would move the parks department from the technical services to the tourism portfolio.

At Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council, parks manager Steve Smith said despite cuts of £170,000 in his department's budget, leading to the loss of four posts, he is confident the service will remain in-house.

In addition, Barrow-in-Furness Borough Council and South Lakeland District Council have agreed to work together to procure up to £32m of grounds maintenance work in the area.

 

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