Friday 6th October 2017- By Simon Mulligan
THE management of St Helens parks could be transferred from the council as part of efforts to make £20.6m of savings over the next three years.
On Monday St Helens Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Commission discussed the council’s proposed budget savings for 2017-20 which had been approved last month.
Cabinet had agreed budget proposals after members had requested for portfolios to specify how they will operate within agreed cash limits, for the next three years.
Among the proposals listed in a council report is a ‘Parks Management review’ which will seek to “investigate feasibility of transfer to voluntary sector of ‘green assets’”.
The review is earmarked to take place ahead of the financial year 2019-20 and the council says a transfer could save £50,000 as part of its savings for the Green Smart and Sustainable Borough portfolio.
However, council sources has said this option would no way amount to “selling off” the green spaces or parks.
Other proposed savings in the portfolio could see the park ranger service axed along with a reduction in the highway maintenance budget, a review of school crossing patrols and of Sherdley Park golf course and possible four-weekly bin collections by 2019-20.
Speaking about the budget at the committee meeting, deputy chief executive and strategic director of corporate services Ian Roberts said:
“These are not paper savings, these are savings that we are working towards implementing by the date that they are required to meet the financial targets to deliver the three-year budget.”
Proposed savings including the reduction of bin collections were met with a strong reaction by Star readers.
Senior councillors have stressed the authority has ‘no desire’ to make the cuts and has been left with no choice.
Earlier this year the council set out how it had already lost £74 million in Government funding since 2010 and needed to make further savings before 2020.
Peter Yates, secretary of the Friends of Taylor Park, expressed concern over a potential transfer of management of the borough’s green spaces.
He said to the Star:
“It is something that worries me, in the voluntary sector you would need the people who have the time to do it and that is difficult to find.”
“We are concerned that everything will go back to the way it was in the 90s when parks were a different thing.”
“An awful lot of money has been spent here on the parks and it will be wasted.”
“£2million has been spent on Taylor Park and Victoria Park was refurbished using National Lottery heritage funding.”
In cabinet, portfolio holder for green, smart and sustainable borough, Terry Shields said:
“It’s not easy as a portfolio holder to look at some of the decisions that we have to take but I can honestly say I’d rather make the decisions that we’re making at this moment in time and be honest with people out there.”
When asked to comment by the Star, a St Helens Council spokesman said any changes to the management of the borough’s green spaces was at this stage only an option and no decisions have been made.