2017 Parks Budget notes – 7

Two elements to focus on: impacts and partnerships/deals

Impacts
Direct impacts have been covered earlier.
Each of us can talk/write about the impact of a given cut.
At the least, we should ask councillors to explain how those impacts will be minimised.
For example, if there are no parkkeepers, who will empty litter bins; who will clear paths; who will monitor general conditions?
If Rangers are restricted to repair and risk assessments, who will lead conservation work; who will liaise with volunteer groups to manage activities generally; who will monitor wildlife and environmental conditions; who will do outreach activities with the less able, the hard-to-reach, young people, and people who behave inappropriately?

These direct impacts may have happened somewhere already, so we should be looking for data. It might come from other councils who’ve made cuts to parks services, or it might come from right here, in previous decades. That information should be to hand already – either within the council, or from campaigning organisations like BOSF.

Secondary impacts need a lot more work, but they are also much more significant.
Getting to the secondary impacts requires data, and data requires investigation.
We need to know who’s been doing any investigation, whether it’s local or in some other city.
I’m not sure which campaign groups would gather info. Could be Parks service itself, or Sports, or Public Health. Could be BOSF, Wildlife Trust, Forest Schools Birmingham, Growing Birmingham, POCZero, Spring to Life, BITA Pathways, Mind, CGL, and so on. It’s not clear that anyone is collecitng and organising data across a wide enough spectrum.  Nonetheless, we should be asking councillors and campaign groups for relevant data points.

Partnerships & Deals
Actual and potential partners can be categorised. We need some of each.

Actual partners include the Parks & Ranger services, community groups, councillors, police, charitable and health organisations, schools, local businesses, grant makers and so on.
We need to know what these groups are doing to support retention of the budget.
We also need to know what data they have access to, and what efforts they can make over and above existing activity.

Potential partners are those with similar aims, but different schemes, which we’d like them to link with ours.
We need to show those potential partners that we are already achieving some of their aims – and that we’d like their support in establishing those activities.

We should be asking potential partners about the kind of datas they track, and what we can each do to support each other.

We should also be asking our councillors to make deals.
We should ask them what kind of work we can do that would persuade them to vote against these particular cuts.
For example, if we each commit to helping someone else access the parks, particularly people from under-served, isolated, or vulnerable populations. Would your councillor commit to maintaining the Rangers budget if we each offered to take someone from a target group on a walk?

Birmingham Parks Budget 2017 – No Firm Conclusions

6. No Firm Conclusion

So, what to say in response to the proposed cuts?

  • They look like they’ve been chosen in a cursory way;
  • There’s no evidence of how they were identified, and how they’ve been weighed up against other possible cuts;
  • We don’t know what other possibilities were considered

It may be too late to send them back to the drawing board. But if I could, …

  • I’d ask for a new way of funding parks and outdoor activities;
  • Through limited corporate sponsorship;
  • Through public sector funding, e.g. sport, health, congestion charging, etc;
  • through community-based initiative, including asset transfers, land trusts, service agreements, and so on.

Birmingham Parks Budget 2017 – Community-Based Management

5. Community-based management

Management of the public realm is changing. It’s also becoming much less straightforward. There are two themes to cover here. One is how complex these arguments need to be. The other is community-based asset management and what’s being called the sharing economy.

How Complicated!

I started this post thinking I’d stay away from the complicated arguments that need to be made. I haven’t the access or time needed to collect the data, chase down answers and so on. That’s why I settled on emotive, impact-focused ideas.

But the complicated ideas show up anyway. Given the state of national finances, and the multiple demands on public resources, decisionmakers at all levels are trying to come up with ways of maintaining public services and resources. It seems as though there’s no political will to challenge Whitehall’s  centralised view on localism; no willingness to reject centrally imposed revenue and spending limits.

Instead of kicking against the traces, some local authorities are trying new approaches to public service delivery. There are little experiments in doing things differently. These might include corporate sponsorhip of fitness programmes (just don’t mention Coke Zero). Or they might focus on supporting 3rd sector organisations in delivering support services. Or there might be new ways of providing access to resources for community-based organisations. In Birmingham’s case, there’s also an awful lot of foot-dragging on the part of members and officers unwilling to take steps in new directions. The avenues that might be grasped with both hands are being pushed to one side.

So I reckon part of my work is to keep pushing for innovative methods; keep asking about opportunities for us to get involved, and gain access to resources. To a certain extent I’m calling that community based asset management. It could also be called the sharing economy.

What is the Sharing Economy?

Here are some snippets from folks in the know:

There has also been a revival of non-monetized initiatives such as tool libraries, which arose decades ago in in low-income communities. These efforts are typically neighborhood-based in order to enhance trust and minimize transportation costs for bulky items. New digital platforms include the sharing of durable goods as a component of neighborhood building (e.g., Share Some Sugar, Neighborgoods). These innovations can provide people with low-cost access to goods and space, and some offer opportunities to earn money, often to supplement regular income streams.

Juliet Schor – Debating the Sharing Economy


The theory of ‘collaborative consumption’ is defined as ‘the reinvention of traditional market behaviors—renting, lending, swapping, sharing, bartering, gifting—through technology, taking place in ways and on a scale not possible before the internet. It includes three systems: product service systems, collaborative lifestyles and redistribution markets that enable people to pay to access and share goods and services versus needing to own them outright.

Rachel Botsman

A lot of the discussion centres on merchandise and commercial services. But there are much deeper and older ways of managing land and access to resources through sharing. These include things like open access to data, land reform, and a rediscovery of the Commons.

This essay is a good starting point for the whole book Wealth of the Commons. In part, this argues for a reconstruction of the public sphere through citizen-led, voluntary activity in managing public spaces. There’s a sizable bunch of people across Birmingham willing to give these ideas a go, but from my perspective it’s been a talking shop, with no allocation of resources, no commitment to act.

BCC could really pull a finger out, get some of these initiatives going, and find they can reduce costs and preserve the public realm.

 Next Section – 6

Birmingham Parks Budget 2017 – Other Approaches

4. Other approaches

Turning to other tactics, where we try to influence councillors through carrot-and-stick approach, we can focus on what a given member may gain or lose. I’m not keen on telling them off and saying they’ll lose votes and so on. They hear that anyway, and they’ll also know what the real vote-losers are.

Instead, I’d focus on how they can benefit from our energy. What most councillors want is for their patch to gain good marks, so most will support anything locals do to make positive change. If you go to a member and say you’ll help manage a volunteer group so long as there are plenty of Rangers, you will have ticked several boxes for that ward, and any sensible councillor would make an extra effort to protect that budget.

Focusing on alternatives brings me back to my starting thoughts. What can we do to find funds elsewhere? Someone on Facebook suggested levying a congestion charge, and using it to pay for greenspace maintenance. I like that idea. At the time, I didn’t know that it’s exactly what Cllr Trickett has mooted. I also didn’t know that a Coventry MP and a 4th rate newspaper rubbished the idea without so much as a kind word. (Best not to let me get started on topics relating to public malfeasance by the 4th Estate, journalistic incompetence, and the deterioration of political discourse, as I don’t know when to stop. So I’ll do a separate post about that, when I can find the words to write about reporters and editors who undermine the public trust.)

I like the idea of congestion charges, just as I like the idea of 5p for carrier bags, & bottle deposits. But it will take too long to set up; it’s not going to save the Parks and Rangers budget this year. This would be the case with any number of other funding streams. Setting them up takes a long while. So we ought to look for money that’s already available. I think we can’t look at private sector money, at least not in the short term. I’d accept a limited corporate sponsorship of parks maintenance; but no financial sector involvement, please. :p

Do I have enough info to identify alternative funding sources? Nope. Can I speculate? Yes. For example, does the NHS have money for fitness programmes? How about Sport England? What about the Public Health bodies? I want to know who has money, and how that money could support greenspace and activities therein. I think there could be stop-gap ways to use lottery money to fund training for volunteers, who then provide specific services – and which the council can draw some income from. This requires a willingness on the parts of BCC and funders. But it can be done. It requires lateral thinking and a willingness to loosen up. Not likely, I know. But still worth requesting.

Given the crude and unexplained way cuts have been targeted, I believe the council have not looked into alternatives. I think the current targets are cursory and unexamined. We are having to do their job for them, but without the resources. So I reckon we ought to be swatting it right back at them.

 Next Section – 5