Smith On ... Park titles are vital to service identity

Parks are not only losing millions of pounds from their budgets but the title "parks" and the word "gardener" are disappearing as quickly as the cash in the newly-merged parks/street scene services.

A couple of councils have deleted the term "gardener" and replaced it with "environmental operatives". On top of pension cuts and having to work until the age of 68, such a wishy-washy title is another factor affecting the morale of many craftsmen gardeners.

Go back in time to, say, the 1930s and 1940s - perhaps excluding the World War Two years - and you would find that most councils had a range of high-ranking public servants - director of public health, director of education and in many cases director of parks.

During my time in Oldham, I came across the council's annual report for 1948 in glossy booklet form that included the report of the director of parks, a post that commanded the same status as those of health and education. When I started in Manchester, the director of parks was a wonderful chap called RA Bee, a man with serious clout and a chauffeur.

Over the past 50 years plus, the standing of those managing parks has diminished, while regular council restructuring has seen the status of those managing parks drop to say third or fourth tier in the council. Coupled with this, the title "parks department" is disappearing into merged street scene/environmental solutions and other unfathomable job titles have all added to the identity problem.

My plea to those left fighting the parks corner in these tough times is to retain the word "parks" and the job title "gardener" at all costs during any restructuring. Lose that, and it will be a massive loss on the identity of the service, the role of professional gardeners and a loss of clout within the councils themselves.

The chances of going back to the situation where the head of parks had a seat at the top table is unlikely in my lifetime, but keep your identity and you have a chance. So it is parks service, head gardener, gardener, apprentice gardener. They may steal your budgets, but do not let them steal your identity and your soul.

Steve Smith is a parks consultant.

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