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Agenda item

Parks management review: the future of the parks service update

Officers will provide a verbal update on progress

Decision:

Resolved: the Committee recommended that in the options appraisal for the future of the parks service – officers should take the following issues into consideration –

·         The future management and viability of spaces for sport in parks;

·         Options for the ring fencing of the parks budget;

·         Safeguarding the employment of professionals with support from volunteers – rather than allowing volunteers to replace paid employees;

·         Biodiversity, climate change mitigation and environmental protection;

·         Management of rough sleepers;

·         The availability of officer resources to deliver the urban national park project;

·         The maintenance of specialist assets (such as built features as well as ceremonial and memorial gardens) in parks.

 

Minutes:

4.1    Vince Buchanan (SGM, Green Scene) provided a verbal update on the proposals for the future of the parks service. The following key points were noted:

·         The current green space contract would end in February 2020.

·         Officers were working on an options appraisal for the future delivery of the service.

·         The three main options being considered were: to insource the service (in line with the Council’s corporate strategy); return to the market to put the contract out for competition; create an arms-length local authority trading company (LATCo) to deliver the service on the Council’s behalf.

·         The options report would return to the Committee in September before a decision by Mayor and Cabinet.

 

4.2    Vince Buchanan responded to questions from the Committee, the following key points were noted:

·         The ‘LATCo’ option was different from insourcing. Each option would require a different governance structures and management arrangements.

·         Given the Council’s restrained financial position – the expenditure on the new service would be a key consideration. Officers in finance were supporting the financial modelling for each of the options.

·         For the options appraisal – officers were using a model developed by the Association for Public Service Excellence – which set out these key assessment criteria: risk; advantages and opportunities; value for money; commercial opportunities for the Council; viability of each option to deliver a quality service; responsiveness of management and assuredness of service delivery; social value (in line with the Council’s newly agreed policy).

·         Biodiversity was not included in the formal options appraisal model – but consideration was being given to environmental issues through the Council’s wider work in this area. Further consideration would also be given to the issues of sustainability and environmental protection as part of the detailed work to deliver the chosen option.

·         Glendale (the current parks management service provider) had committed to ensuring that they provided a quality service until the end of the contract – despite whichever future option was chosen.

·         Seasonal demand meant that operatives and managers were currently focused on maintenance and planting – as opposed to delivery of new projects.

·         Officers would work with colleagues in procurement to examine the options for an organisation from the voluntary and community sector provider to deliver the service. The Council had to ensure that any provider had the capacity to deliver a contract of significant size.

·         Glendale was contractually obliged to provide equipment for eighteen  months beyond the end of the contract in order to enable the Council to maintain the borough’s parks. However, there was some potential ambiguity about the detail of this obligation. If necessary – advice would be sought from the Council’s legal department.

·         The Council would expect that staff covered by transfer of undertakings and protection of employment (TUPE) regulations would transfer to any new model of service provision.

·         There was a small number of staff that had transferred out of Council employment 20 years ago when the service was put out to contract – these staff would be expected to return under a ‘secondary transfer’..

·         A playing pitch strategy had been developed by officers in the Sports Development team. Officers in the parks team would consider the strategy to assess how best the service could support its implementation.

·         The amount of meadow in the borough’s parks had been increased over a number of years to support biodiversity. Any decision to increase the amount of meadow area in a park took into consideration all of the space in that park - and its usage - to ensure that there was a good balance.

·         Several thousand square metres of meadow had been added to Blackheath in order support biodiversity.

·         The Council had a good relationship with friends groups and support for activities to maintain a park (such as litter picking) were welcomed. Engagement with local people helped increase the sense of ownership of parks. However, responsibility for maintaining parks remained with the Council.

·         The existing contract with Glendale meant that the provider received all of the income from hosting events (there was an exception for the OnBlackheath festival). Beckenham Place Park was currently run directly by the Council so all money from events in the park returned to the Council.

·         Consideration would be given to the options for raising income from events in parks in any future model for service delivery.

·         People who were delivering commercial exercise classes in parks were required to apply for a permit (at a cost).

 

4.3    In the Committee discussions the following key points were also noted:

·         There was a difference of opinion in the Committee about the right quantity of meadow in Lewisham’s parks.

·         Members welcomed the support of ‘friends of parks’ groups in maintaining parks – but maintenance of parks should remain the responsibility of the Council – and be provided by paid professionals.

·         Members noted the increase in spaces available for different sports (including bowling, tennis and cricket) in parks.

·         Any future option for the parks service should give consideration to all users of parks – including parents requiring baby changing facilities and spaces for breastfeeding.

·         Members raised concerns about the risk to the Council of running events.

·         The Committee highlighted the success of Lewisham’s parks in the Good Parks for London report and questioned whether the budget for the parks service could be ring-fenced to protect high quality service delivery.

 

4.4    Resolved: the Committee recommended that in the options appraisal for the future of the parks service – officers should take the following issues into consideration –

·         The future management and viability of spaces for sport in parks;

·         Options for the ring fencing of the parks budget;

·         Safeguarding the employment of professionals with support from volunteers – rather than allowing volunteers to replace paid employees;

·         Biodiversity, climate change mitigation and environmental protection;

·         Management of rough sleepers;

·         The availability of officer resources to deliver the urban national park project;

·         The maintenance of specialist assets (such as built features as well as ceremonial and memorial gardens) in parks.