Murder in the park: Walsall Council’s cuts to greenspace revealed

Following the protest on Monday, 19th November outside the Council House in Walsall, lead members of the Save Walsall’s Greenspace and Country Services Group, Linda Mason and Roger Jones attended a meeting with Walsall Council officers Jamie Morris and Mark Holden.

Without adequate ranger cover, friends groups and work parties can’t get the support and organisation they need. Image from the Save Walsall’s Green Spaces and Countryside Services blog.

Linda and Roger went to hear what Walsall Council had to say about the cuts to the service we’ve been protesting about, and offer the group’s views. We had been led to believe the proposals were not as bad as we thought. This was incorrect – they’re far, far worse. I think we are all shocked and disappointed with the disregard the Council appears to have for it’s currently excellent Countryside Services and Ranger team. These count amongst their number some very talented and highly trained individuals, which the borough is lucky to employ.

It’s also telling to note the discrepancy between what was said here, and the assertions made by certain councillors on Monday. Based on the evidence here, the future doesn’t look good, and that’s a crying shame.

Linda wrote in the campaign’s Facebook group the following post, with the notes of the meeting as an attached file which I include too.

Here are the notes on the meeting Roger and I had with Jamie Morris and Mark Holden. They are just notes and not intended to be minutes. I did ask to record the meeting so that I could prepare proper notes but was refused permission!
If there are any questions then I can try to raise them later. The notes give you a flavour of what was discussed. If you want further information please email me. Please keep any comments and observations civil and non-political please. Roger and I did our best. We are not experts!

The notes are as follows:

MH explained that the decision was made in August 2012 to integrate the services provided by Green Spaces and Street Pride. Running parallel with this decision was the knowledge that budget savings would have to be made.

c. £6 million from Street Pride over 4 years

c. £450K from Green Spaces over 4 years

In addition a further £300K can be saved through the departmental integration.

There has already been some restructuring of the management element and there are further proposals concerning management posts.

LM asked about potential Trust status currently being looked at. It was clarified that Green Spaces are not part of the current examination of creating a Leisure Trust. JM said this was because GS was more at risk of disconnection from local communities if in Trust.

It was clarified that although there is a restructuring of the posts included in Arboretum side of GS there will be no change in the number of posts there due to external funding.

No changes to tree maintenance.

RJ pointed out that there was a high calibre of staff in GS dedicated to everything they did providing a service over and above what they are contracted for. The Group are concerned that this expertise will be lost through proposed staff reductions.

Just a small selection of activities and events the team organise and facilitate.

Potential job structure was discussed at length. Lots of roles will be changing. More team leader posts will be created. More people will be trained in the issue of Fixed Penalty Notices and more people will be on site on a permanent basis. They hope this will lead to more sites gaining a green flag as one of the criteria is a presence on site.

In Street Pride an 18-post reduction is proposed from operational level to administration with 2 senior management roles going.

Park Rangers were moving to SP operations effectively becoming environmental operatives. When pushed it was revealed that 2 Assistant Park Managers and 4 Senior Park Ranger Posts may be lost within this restructuring. Roles are to be redefined and multi tasking will be expected. This is still subject to review.

GS will combine countryside services and forestry role. Two senior Countryside Ranger Posts will be lost although this is also  still subject to review.

Throughout the meeting both RJ and LM emphasised the fact that people currently working as Rangers in Parks and CS are excellent staff, give a great, expert, specialised service over and above what would be expected and were considered assets by all users.

JM and MH insisted that the main links with Neighbourhood Rangers for Friends and User Groups would not change.

Maintenance Restructuring has not been considered in any depth as the members of the cabinet had made it clear that there were to be no changes to floral displays, winter and summer bedding. This means there will be little change in grass mowing (although there will be a move to use less agency staff and instead use people on annualised hours contracts. LM and RJ suggested that perhaps maintenance restructuring should be looked at including less grass mowing, more wild flower meadows and wild flower planting rather than formal bedding. JM indicated this could work out more expensive!

There is currently no proposal to change green space opening and closing times or to change locking and opening procedures although this might be looked at as there are 300 council staff who live locally and apparently it would make sense to use their services and also those of local community groups and also to consider if parks etc could left open 24/7. LM and RJ pointed out that every site was not suitable for 24 hour opening and that before any proposals were made to groups regarding taking over locking and unlocking, insurance and safety issues needed serious investigation.

LM asked about apprentices and the current liaison with B’ham Uni. Liaison will continue and apprenticeships will continue subject to funding availability.

RJ introduced the subject of the new GS Strategy. JM said that the new strategy was designed not to heighten expectations as realistically they may not be able to maintain some sites to the same standard and may have to concentrate on fewer sites. The primary sites would be maintained.

RJ asked about the proposed role of a Green Space Champion. MH advised that this had not been fully considered at this time.

Notes: Abbreviations used

  • SP= Street Pride
  • GS = Green Space(s)
  • MH = Mark Holden
  • JM = Jamie Morris
  • RJ = Roger Jones
  • LM = Linda Mason

It goes almost without saying, but if you feel as strongly about this as we do, please sign the petition, join in the campaign and make your voice heard. The way it’s going it seems that the only thing that will be saved is the Arboretum and Beacon, with everything else being neglected. 

But don’t worry, the floral displays are safe. For heaven’s sake…

This is the kind of flytipping that’s dealt with by volunteer groups organised by the Countryside Services Team – in other words, The Big Society in action. Image from the Save Walsall’s Green Spaces and Countryside Services blog.

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7 Responses to Murder in the park: Walsall Council’s cuts to greenspace revealed

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  3. Pedro says:

    What is a quintessentially British park?

    In the 1970s and 1980s, parks slipped down local authorities’ agenda. A lack of investment, and concerns over anti-social behaviour, littering and safety, meant many parks became bleak no-go areas….It is estimated that there are 2.5bn visits to public parks in the UK every year.

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