Green Flag Awards An exceptional year
The controversy has marred an exceptional year for the Green Flag Awards with some stunning achievements. Grounds staff from the Landscape Group, for example, celebrated 36 Green Flags across its contracted sites, from Southport to Eastbourne.
Business development director Sarah Hughes-Clarke said the group did not bid because the scheme should be led by an "independent, ideally not-for-profit organisation that represents the wider amenity horticulture sector".
The deadline for tenders for the Green Flag Awards closed on Tuesday (28 August) as the Department for Communities & Local Government's (DCLG) mishandling of the process continued to fuel frustration and anger across the sector.
Bidders for the contract had only one month to firm up offers for running the scheme. Some 16 organisations are understood to have expressed an interest in the contract. The DCLG continually refuses to comment but admitted last week there is no set time limit for choosing a winner.
A sector expert who had considered bidding said: "I am in despair at the process. It's a debacle of the first order. The awards need to be wrestled away from Government and run as a charity."
A representative from parks charity GreenSpace said: "The process is not ideal and has caused conflict. It's a bit of a sore subject."
Although the current licence holder Keep Britain Tidy was expected to bid, it did not disclose its intention when asked by HW. The scheme will lose all Government funding when it transfers to a new licence holder.
The RHS, which is a strong contender to run the awards, said it had discussed the tender requirements internally. Head of regional development Andrea Van-Sittart said the society remained "keenly interested" but unsure about a bid right up to the wire.
"There is a major challenge on timing and questions of affordability," she added. "We are aware of the costs but because it's a live, externally-facing activity the speed at which it needs to be picked up doesn't create the time for reworking of the process."
Landscape consultant Peter Wilkinson said: "The tender process is based on the most economically advantageous bid and there is no certainty on cost and quality. It's an extraordinary way to demonstrate the Government's commitment.
"You could build a model where those who want to benefit from the scheme buy shares, with ownership based on commitment to the scheme along the lines of a subscription. You could run it as a social enterprise, but that takes time."
The Government issued a two-page tender invite for a five-year contract a month ago. The present contract has now expired and the new contract is scheduled to start this autumn.