Birmingham Parks Budget 2017 – What it’s About

Written on:December 27, 2016
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This post is something like a train of thought, perhaps a series of thoughts, written out to help clarify it to myself for later use elsewhere. A much-reduced version, perhaps.

This one is not the least bit concise, nor particularly coherent. There are no ready answers, and no firm conclusions. I’d like to make it work extemporaneously, banging out short notes as easily as the thoughts arrive.

Or maybe it’s a train wreck of ideas. Anyway, onward.

1. What it’s about

Birmingham City Council (BCC) have proposed a 20% reduction in the parks and ranger services budget. The cuts are aimed at particular services; targeted cuts, rather than across the board. A letter from Cllr Lisa Trickett spells out the situation.

Last week the Council launched its public budget consultation for 2017/18. It has had to identify the need for further costs savings of circa £51m (in addition to £27m of savings already identified for 17/18). With demographic pressures and the wider impact of the Government’s austerity programme putting statutory services under increasing strain areas for significant reduction have had to be found in the non-statutory service areas from 1 April 2017.

The Parks and Nature Conservation Service is one of those services. It is being asked to make a 20% budget reduction from 17/18 onwards. Proposals in the consultation include:-
* The withdrawal of the Park Keepers.
* Reducing the Ranger Hubs from 6 to 2 with remaining staff focussed on land management, risk assessments and repairs.
* Stopping cutting 20% of grass in parks, public open space and on the highways.
* Removal of 50% of all flower beds and shrubs and returning the areas back to grass.
* Stopping all baskets and planters unless fully funded from other sources.

While this is pretty straightforward, it looks to me like they’ve picked the wrong targets.

Note that the proposals are just that: proposals. Note also that there’s no explanation why it’s these five, not some other bunch. For all I know these are random programmes drawn from the tombola of cuts. It makes me wonder how well considered they were. A bit later on  I’ll think through possible effects. They seem to be chosen without much regard for effects, nor how effective or ineffective they are at maximising savings and quality of outcome. In short this looks like a cursory effort, a selection of cuts made without much thought or insight.

Frankly, any proposed cut ought to come with substantive explanation and evidence of forethought.

Not just an assessment of likely effects; I’d like to know what prompted this selection in relation to any others; what else could take the axe instead. Given that the proposed cuts show no evidence of forethought, I’d like to make some serious alternative proposals.

But I’m in no position to do that. I have no access to the thinking behind the proposed cuts. So I can’t say why they chose these targets instead of others, or vice versa, why other targets weren’t chosen. Likewise, I haven’t got access to data about the rest of BCC operations and budgets. So I can’t identify savings elsewhere. Nor can I propose credible alternative sources of funds. And so on.

These limitations are worth noting because it means my response to any consultation can only be speculative, rather than informed. This is pretty much where any member of the public stands. None of us are in a position to make arguments based on evidence. So we must use other ways of arguing our cause.

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