Parks managers remain focused on cost savings as cuts continue

Teams reduce grass cutting, try new working methods and hone procurement with budgets cut.

Alexandra Park: Oldham Council exempted from further cuts in 2014 due to depth of previous cutbacks - image: HW
Alexandra Park: Oldham Council exempted from further cuts in 2014 due to depth of previous cutbacks - image: HW

As local authorities finalise departmental budgets for 2014-15 and prepare for a further 10 per cent cut in central Government funding in 2015-16, parks managers remain firmly focused on finding cost savings.

Luton Borough Council has to save around £1.5m on its green spaces over three years, including £635,000 this year, almost £800,000 next year and just over £100,000 in 2016, according to parks and cemetery manager Barry Timms. External services are being brought in-house where possible.

"Grass cutting frequencies will go from 17 cuts a year to six while small bedding, hanging baskets and planting on roundabouts will go," he said. "We have to lose 20 staff from next April but there will be no compulsory redundancies. The mood has gone from completely depressed to: 'This is where we're at, let's get on with it.'"

Deep cuts to Oldham Council's parks budgets in previous years meant an exemption for 2014-15, said general manager for environmental services Glenn Dale. But further public-sector cuts announced by the Government still spell danger. The parks budget is £6m.

"We are looking at ways to save money," said Dale. "One of these is a seven-day working week pilot project - two teams work 7am-6pm every day. We used to stop at noon on Friday and go back on Monday. This will cost 10 per cent more, paying staff for unsocial hours, but will still save money by dealing with problems straight away."

Budgets at Tunbridge Wells Borough Council remained fairly static this year at just under £1m for the town's 100 or so spaces. Contract services manager Mel Henley said the parks team is more entrepreneurial, focusing on "procurement, partnerships and community".

He added: "We have been able to create value for money and better standards by working with friends groups and using more effective procurement. The council funds Britain in Bloom to £10,000 but by getting people involved the value of the work is £80,000.

"Contractor Sodexo has gone that extra mile, doing more than what the contract requires. They have given 350 hours that they didn't charge and have provided plant and equipment at cost rather than a profit margin."


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