A recent APSE opinion poll, conducted by Survation, exploring public opinion on neighbourhood services, found that yet again, the public give parks the highest satisfaction ratings amongst all local government services, however we also know that parks are one of the hardest hit services as a result of austerity, with many facing an uncertain future.
Anyone who reads the local government sectoral journals is well versed in the graph of doom scenario and the squeeze it creates on non-statutory services. The £3B of cuts that have hit England’s neighbourhood services are playing out harshly on the average parks services and for the most deprived areas the impact of austerity is felt all the more harshly.
However, parks people are a resilient lot and have managed to streamline services through efficiencies, generate income through commercialisation and pick up some of the slack through volunteers and friends of the parks groups. The worst of the cuts may already have been faced but those still to come are coming on top of what has already taken place and there is very limited scope for manoeuvre.
I would hate to see a situation arise where these highly valued assets are taken back to Victorian times and are dependent on philanthropic goodwill. What happens to the urban greenspace that poorer kids play on under this scenario?
Parks of course contribute to health and wellbeing on so many levels, from promoting active lifestyles from the earliest age, which helps tackle childhood obesity, to helping keep elderly people mobile, avoiding social isolation and keeping them out of care for longer. It’s a pity that we continue to talk the rhetoric of prevention not cure but continue to reduce resources at the prevention end and increase at the cure end. You don’t need to be a genius to work out that a few billion spent just now would save tens of billions later.
Government are aware of the problem and the DCLG recently set up the Parks Action Group, Chaired by Parks and Green Spaces Minister, Marcus Jones, to identify a vision of how public parks can remain a much treasured and highly valued public asset in the future. As a member of this group I am keen to ensure that the wider value that parks bring to society is recognised.
Whilst I recognise that the Treasury aren’t prone to handing out bags of new money, surely, we can spend the money that is in the system, much more efficiently and effectively.