Further cuts expected from parks departments next year, expert warns

Many parks departments will have to make further painful cuts to services next year but some already hit hard hope to gain a reprieve.

Most local authorities are out to consultation until early next year on proposed cuts, but a few details are emerging. These suggest more cuts to parks services, forcing teams to rethink everything from shift work to lawnmower hire.

Oldham Council green-space manager Glenn Dale said proposed cuts are out for consultation until January. But if agreed, the parks department would have to make £750,000 savings from 2013 to 2015.

"We hope to reduce our fleet of hired and leased trucks to save around £150,000 and also kit such as mowers to save about £50,000," he said. "We'll tighten up shift work but staff will be reduced, hopefully by natural wastage such as early retirement.

"Like others, we fear an exodus of skilled staff and, though we have a good apprenticeship scheme, it can't bring skilled people up in the numbers we hoped. But people are drifting up and we are working proactively to manage the cuts."

Some of the biggest losers in recent years seem to have escaped further heavy cuts. Liverpool is expecting two tranches of cuts, but parks are included in neither of the current hit lists.

The London Borough of Richmond upon Thames is not expecting cuts but will switch from using one grounds-upkeep contractor, costing £3m a year to several smaller firms to make savings, said head of parks and open spaces David Allister.

Tunbridge Wells contract services manager for parks Mel Henley said he does not expect a budget cut this year but is being asked to find efficiencies. Contracting out services could help safeguard areas of the budget because of contractual obligations on service levels and timescales.

"But parks managers will have to become business as well as parks managers. They need to be more entrepreneurial and look at charges, events and legacies to green spaces. Digging your head in the sand is not an option."

Dacorum Borough Council is having no cuts to parks, following a huge restructuring four years ago. Operations manager Simon Coultas recently freed up money by using temporary staff, rationalising kit and reviewing sickness leave to set targets.

Without the Olympics and jubilee, growers expect parks departments to order less bedding for 2013.

Parks consultant Russell McDonnell said: "Cuts will continue, but most parks don't have asset registers. They don't know how many benches they have or their condition and without such evidence they can't even make a case for funding."

Meanwhile, the lack of a national database on the condition of parks further undermines the case and argument for funding. The Green Flag Awards are good for community building and protecting spaces but are not representative of an overarching standard, he added.

"There will be more talk next year of setting up charities to do the kind of work done by Land Trust, but I worry about the satellite parks and countryside areas," said McDonnell. "Parks are in trouble, but these more out-of-sight places are in a shocking state."

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