Green space managers prioritise as localism bill reveals full extent of cuts

Industry experts assert need for skills and strategic views as managers hone cuts in wake of the localism bill.

Green space managers were preparing tough plans to make savings this week as unprecedented cuts in Government funding for local authorities were unveiled in the localism bill.

Local leaders said spending on Green Flag parks and Britain in Bloom and investment in training and strategy were all at risk.

Councils in England face cuts of nearly 10 per cent next year in their central funding. The total reduction in funding over four years will hit 28 per cent (see box).

Communities secretary Eric Pickles said: "This will herald a groundbreaking shift in power to councils and communities, overturning decades of central control."

But councils called the cuts devastating and catastrophic. The London Borough of Lewisham is to cut development money for parks including Green Flag holders and will make cuts to the London in Bloom scheme, while Camden is increasing pitch charges to ease a £25m cut to the environment and culture department.

Nottingham City Council head of parks and open spaces Eddie Curry, said it was looking at reductions to Britain in Bloom, park improvements and rangers. The parks service and its capacity would be very different, he said.

"There will almost certainly be some job losses but we will look at making them through retirement and not filling vacancies. It's a little too early to be specific."

Roger Burnett, parks and countryside manager at Scarborough Borough Council, said: "We will look at asset transfer, perhaps of buildings within parks, to fund upkeep. Green Flag should be safe because parks in coastal towns are a big draw and central to localism.

"We will lose around 10 per cent of the workforce in the next few years - about seven to eight people a year. We won't recruit full-time staff but use fixed-term contracts."

A head of parks for a northern council added: "We will look at reductions in bedding and shrubbery and at the standards and frequency of grass cutting."

Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council service manager Richard Bradley said: "We had neighbourhood and future jobs funding for apprentices and will have to look at the devil in the detail of this announcement with regard to future apprentices."

Parks consultant Bob Ivison said: "The bill will make budgets for training, organisation and service development even more vulnerable. You need people with strategic vision but parks departments risk losing their long-term view.

"These cuts endanger the core of localism - engaging with volunteers. This needs a properly managed programme, which calls for structure, focus and resources. Volunteers need to be managed but are the announced cuts too deep to pay for this?"

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