Parks in firing line as budget cuts bite

Council chief uses services 'graph of doom' example to warn of funding choices in the face of sustained budget cutting.

Budget cuts are leading local authorities down a path to "doom" with some unlikely to be able to fund parks, leisure and other services in future, a council chief has warned.

Speaking at an Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) conference, West Lancashire Borough Council's Rob Bailey said one London borough has analysed projected finances to draw up a "graph of doom".

"Within 10 years, the local authority will be unable to fund adult social services and some children's services, libraries, parks and leisure services," added Bailey, who is also a principal adviser at APSE.

Meanwhile, Lancashire council has shed a third of its workforce - more than 10,000 staff - in 18 months, although without compulsory redundancies. The typical authority has seen funding cuts of 28 per cent while some, such as Liverpool, have seen 40 per cent axed, delegates heard.

But it is not all gloom, Bailey told the "Can Money Grow on Trees" event in Windsor. Many elected members see parks as front-line services because they are so popular with voters. "You've got more support from them than from the council itself," he said.

Bailey called for a "balanced and proportionate" response to the budget cuts and insisted that there are still opportunities.

Parks chiefs in Edinburgh, for example, made changes by using a matrix structure and dividing parks into six neighbourhoods, each with a manager to coordinate services and involve locals, he explained. They set up 36 friends groups and every indicator on quality and satisfaction rose.

Nottingham City Council, meanwhile, saved millions of pounds by bringing park upkeep in house and setting up a specialist horticulture team, said Bailey.

It devolved sports pitch upkeep to clubs, employed 30 apprentices, used section 106 cash to build outdoor gyms and tapped into the Heritage Lottery Fund and city wildlife grants.

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