Monday 25 June 2012

Oppose Brent Parks Service privatisation - support park workers

View across Fryent Country Park meadows to Kingsbury
I was looking at this view with a class of 7 and 8 year olds recently and telling them how we owed the preservation of Middlesex countryside in Fryent Country Park to the far-sighted councillors of Middlesex Country Council who in 1938 purchased the farmland on either side of Fryent Way to preserve some open space from the encroaching housing.

Since then this remaining fragment of Middlesex countryside has escaped proposals to build housing, a golf club, a zoo and even an Olympic Village for the unsuccessful 1988 London OIympics bid.

Now the councillors of Brent Council are making a proposal that could do considerable harm to Fryent Country Park and other Brent parks and open spaces. This week the Brent and Kilburn Times LINK confirms my fears of December 2011 LINK that the Council were considering privatising the parks service. The Council refused to answer my questions on this on the grounds that Wembley Matters was not 'official media' and then refused to answer a Freedom of Information request on the same matter.

According the the BKT the 80 park and cemetery  maintenance service workers have already received letters warning them that the Council is considering out-sourcing the service. The management of the Parks Service was merged with the Sports Service under one Head of Serice recently after the retirement of Shaun Faulkner, a champion of Brent's Green Flag winning parks and open spaces. It will come as no surprise to regular readers to hear that Cllr James Powney is the lead member for this service.

Brent Council says that it spends £3m on parks maintenance and.."we face unprecedented financial pressures, so we are looking at all our services, including saving money on grounds maintenance while also protecting the quality wherever possible". That "wherever possible" should serve as a warning  to all who love and appreciate our local parks.

It is those 80 maintenance staff who have enabled our parks to win Green Flag awards, who have got to know and cherish them and maintain the spaces sensitively, preserving and enhancing natural habitats. Although staff will have rights under TUPE,  if money is to 'saved' whilst giving the private company a profit, hours, numbers of staff and conditions of service will be reduced.

My fear is that this will result in the sort of parks maintenance that is evident in the private contractors operating in some of our housing estates where trees and shrubs are not pruned or cut-back by experts but 'shaped' by a workman with a chain-saw and grass cut whatever the weather resulting in churned up lawn areas.

In the Wirral last year there was a huge row over the privatisation of parks with Labour opposing the plans put forward by the previous Lib Dem-Conservative coalition and a dispute over the possibility of an 'in-house' bid for the contract. LINK Here Labour is putting forward the plans and although Council Leader Muhammed Butt tweated this weekend about Brent's oldest building, Old St Andrew's Church in Kingsbury, Labour has a poor record on preserving our heritage.

As I pointed out to that primary class, parks are part of our heritage.  That heritage should not be threatened by short-term financial cost saving to the detriment of our long term social and environmental capital.

Brent residents should oppose parks privatisation. If despite opposition the plans go ahead everything should be done to provide support for an 'in-house' bid to run the service.


Martin Francis said...

This is a test comment as readers report having difficulty making a comment on this blog.

Francis said...

now are understanding why the planting in barham has been reduced and the biuldings are been prepared for the private sector, ie tidy up all loose ends

Unknown said...

Ironic thing is in Hillingdon the Tory council has had to take places like golf course back in house because the private company walked, still owing the council money.

Martin Francis said...

Yes and it will happen here I am sure but not before our parks and open spaces have deteriorated. At least Brent Council did not go ahead with their school PFI project a few years ago - think what situation we might face now....

James Powney has had one of his regular goes at me on his blog suggesting that the above 'insinuates' that I thing Brent Council intends to build on the park/s. No James, just against privatisation which by its nature skims off council tax money for the private company's profit and results in lower pay and poorer working conditions for a less qualified workforce - and a poorer service as a result.