Local authority and private sector collaborate over green space challenges

70 senior local authority officers and their service delivery partners gathered together for a seminar at Kew Gardens recently to address and find workable outcomes to the key challenges faced in managing and maintaining the UK’s parks and open spaces. This industry ‘first’ was organised by BALI-NCF, the National Contractors’ Forum.

The seminar entitled ‘Managing our Green Spaces: Are we Fighting a Losing Battle?’ sought to promote collaboration between the private and public sectors in identifying the major areas of change necessary to continue to meet the quality and service delivery expected by key stakeholders.

The day commenced with a welcome and introduction by Phil Jones, Chairman of BALI-NCF. This was immediately followed by keynote speaker Mike Windsor, Principal, Mike Windsor Associates, who delivered a ‘no holds barred’ view of the barriers facing the industry. The conclusion was that these challenges would only become surmountable when service delivery partners and their local authority clients work together in an atmosphere of trust and openness.

Steven Brown, Principal Consultant and Knowledge Leader at Ricardo Consultancy, followed with an in depth look at the state of the local authority market: the rising tide of the public realm, trends in the industry, the dichotomy of insourcing or outsourcing services, and the importance of data gathering and research before deciding on a service delivery model that brings best value. The rest of the day was given over to workshops and open debates surrounding both the green space industry itself and the contract relationship.

Significant comments from these sessions included:
“Partnership is key to managing our green spaces and to keep them evolving. Contractors’ involvement in delivery is paramount. Trust and integrity is the key, together with working towards joint solutions.”

“Are we at the point of hard decisions to be made, of switching services off? If decline becomes too great, how will process and systems be managed to get back to usable services?”

“The key priority is to raise the profile and importance of parks. We should do this by demonstrating the health and wellbeing benefits plus the benefits to the economy.”

“Delivery of contracts needs to be based on first determining the services that are required through consultation and challenge and only then implementing the most appropriate delivery mechanisms; not just following historic patterns and specifications.”

“We need to move away from Green Space being taken for granted. We need to jointly work together to ensure that Green Space is valued.”

“Local authorities and their contractors need to work together with Friends Groups. The role of the ‘Friend’ has changed – matured to being a powerful lobbying force that understands that our parks are under threat and are passionate about their individual open spaces. This is a more effective route for discussion and pressure to change.”

Phil Jones said: “The ‘Managing Our Green Spaces’ seminar has been a first for our industry and shows the commitment of both the local authorities and their service delivery partners to work together to find a way through the many challenges that are presented to us today. It is the intention of BALI-NCF to continue to lobby government as well as gathering evidence to raise the profile of green spaces and their importance. More needs to be done by those who have real influence.”

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