Park heads welcome £800m cash pledge but warn of funds shortfall

Council funds shortfall brings caution but park heads welcome a higher than expected cash injection.

Park managers have cautiously welcomed a higher than expected cash injection for councils of £800m over two years, promised in chancellor Gordon Brown’s pre-budget report this week. But with the council-funding shortfall estimated at £2.2bn by the Local Government Association, many parks department heads are still doubtful they will find the funding they need for 2006. Sid Sullivan, parks consultant, said: “I would think the best picture will be maintaining the status quo but I suspect the effects of inflation will mean the spending on parks in real terms will go down.” He added that councils were spending more on health and safety measures in parks and less on maintenance. Denise Preston, chief recreation officer for Leeds City Council, said: “We can access capital relatively easily but revenue funding is a struggle. Education, social services and housing always come first. Once budgets get squeezed, parks go further down the list.” She added that energy price rises of 34 per cent have put pressure on operational budgets. Steve Smith, Oldham’s head of parks, said he hoped services would be maintained if councils implemented the 2004 Gershon efficiency review into public-sector spending by cutting office staff. Richard Welburn, head of parks and green spaces at Leicester City Council, said new money for youth activity provision and the ODPM’s Cleaner, Safer, Greener programme was a good thing. “More external funding is to be welcomed,” he said. “It could be the catalyst for a series of projects we’re currently having to shelve.” Eve Risbridger, London Borough of Richmond head of parks and open spaces, said she welcomed the higher than expected funding but warned the crucial factor would be the allocation for each council: “Richmond has traditionally had a tough settlement compared with adjacent boroughs.” L Tim Bennett, NFU president, expressed frustration at a 1.22p-per-litre increase in the duty on red diesel but welcomed a freeze on road transport fuel duty.

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