Council kills off Percy the park keeper and abandons 120 parks

CHRIS PECKHAM, our environment correspondent, on the latest shocking admission of failure at Croydon Town Hall

Park Hill is one of the lucky six parks to be picked by the council for special, on-going attention

Croydon Council is about to shut-up the park keeper’s hut in more than 120 of the borough’s open spaces, as it seems primed to axe all professional staff from its once proud and prestigious parks department.

According to sources who work with the department on a daily basis, virtually all of the staff who used to handle our parks have either decided to move on because they’ve had enough or they are being made redundant anyway.

“Our parks risk being turned into unmaintained wastelands or a collection of privately run cafes and sports clubs,” is the grim view of one insider.

There is no longer a dedicated parks department at Croydon Council. Instead of almost two dozen employees, half the roles have been axed, the others re-defined and merged into something called “Parks, Leisure/Active Lifestyles and Live Well”, generating an acronym that looks like Palace’s playing record last season: PLALLW.

Austerity cuts have been hitting all council services hard for the past seven years, but it seems likely that the abandonment of the borough’s parks service in Croydon will mark a real running up of the white flag on what used to be a dependable Town Hall function.

“We’ve been cut to the bone across all departments,” one Katharine Street source said today. “But still the government keeps cutting our funding. When you have increasing demands on things like Adult Social Care or child support services and homelessness, something like parks becomes an easy, almost obvious, thing to cut. They describe it as a ‘nice to have’ and a ‘less-than-essential’.

“But what goes next? Libraries? Roads maintenance? Old people’s homes?”

Croydon has 127 parks and open spaces. A recent “masterplan” identified just six of them for some form of on-going funding and management arrangements, with the rest left to fend for themselves, surviving off hand-outs from a few modest grants and the goodwill and time of a few volunteers.

Meanwhile, a misfiring contract with IdVerde – who have taken over Quadron – for parks maintenance rumbles on, with many residents dissatisfied with the standard of work being performed in their parks and with the contractors unable to make the deal viable for their business.

Prior to the 2014 election, the then Conservative-led council awarded the landscape management contract to Quadron, for no other reason than it was the cheapest price offered. It was soon clear that, for the price they bid, Quadron was unable to fulfill all the duties within the tender. There were allegations, never denied, that the contractor was failing to pay its staff the London Living Wage (by 2015, a requirement laid down by the now Labour-run council for all new contractors), while the standard of the work being done was well below what was expected by residents.

“No matter how many penalty clauses have been invoked by the council and despite the takeover of the contractor by a larger landscaping firm, the complaints about poor work continue to roll in,” our source said. There are so few staff remaining in the council’s parks department that handling complaints about contractor performance now takes up a large portion of their time.

In March 2016, the council’s cabinet approved a report “Ambitious for parks and green spaces in Croydon – working with our communities”. The title contains a massive clue as to the intention to hand over the parks to volunteers. The paper, which was approved by, if not authored by, Timothy Godfrey, Labour’s cabinet member responsible for parks, laid out the grim future of a parks service with no budgets, thanks to austerity cuts.

Percy the ‘named park keeper’: not coming to a park near you any time soon

Having agreed this strategy, only then did the council consult the public.

The “Croydon Talks Parks” consultation last autumn was run without trying too hard to publicise it to the users of parks, outside a handful of pre-selected core locations.

In all, from a borough with a population of 350,000, just 1,500 residents (according to the council) responded. To date, nearly a year on, the council has failed to publish any report arising from this consultation.

Since then, the council has paid consultants (the council always finds money for consultants) to draw up what it calls a “masterplan”, but which is in fact a complete retreat from the council managing all but six of Croydon’s parks.

Throughout the “consultation” period and the masterplanning “process”, there had been fears expressed within the skeleton staff remaining within the parks department that the council was going to withdraw all professional staff and ask volunteers to look after the parks.

Promises from Labour’s 2014 local election manifesto that every park will have a “named park keeper” (and no, not all of them were to be called “Percy”) have long been forgotten.

Instead, now the council leadership is actively out recruiting volunteers for the borough’s parks and green spaces, to undertake the tasks which, previously, had been done by paid, trained and properly equipped parks staff, many of whom were probably members of trades unions.

Park friends groups already put in many hours of work to help maintain or improve our parks, but as a member of a friends group for one of the parks excluded from the council’s “Big 6” selected parks said, “Volunteers are the icing on the cake, they are not the cake.”

Only in the past week there was a meeting called for residents in the north of the borough, supported by Alison Butler, the council deputy leader. The meeting was overtly to recruit volunteers to manage and maintain Thornton Heath Rec, an open space which has become notorious lately as the scene of youth knife crime.

Council deputy leader Alison Butler: handing Thornton Heath Rec over to volunteers

“Email jamieaudsley@gmail.come [sic] if you wanna join the parks team,” the ever-so-hip and sometime suspended Councillor Jamie Audsley has posted on social media.

“We’re also looking for a ‘Parks Team Leader’ in the action team who can work with current park leaders and other councillors to sustain this work going forward,” said the councillor for Bensham Manor ward.

From what Audsley goes on to describe, he’s actually seeking a highly qualified local authority professional – probably not dissimilar to several who have been made redundant, including by this supposedly Labour-run council.

“We need someone with good project management skills who is prepared to support preparation of meetings, follow-up with actions and hold all in the parks team to account,” Audsley writes.

And what might someone expect in return for their expertise and time?

Audsley again: “Remuneration = good coffee, fun and rapid political education in fast-paced environment. Faster paced after you’re on board.” Whoop-de-bloody-whoop.

“Time required 1-2 hours a week max if you’re organised!” Audsley adds, unconvincingly.

Thing is, what Audsley and Butler are doing for Thornton Heath Rec may soon be forced on parks and open spaces elsewhere in the borough. Not so much a privatisation of Croydon’s parks, but an abandonment of the parks.

Percy the park keeper, RIP.


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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in Alison Butler, Bensham Manor, Community associations, Croydon Council, Croydon parks, Environment, Friends of Addiscombe Railway Park, Friends of Ashburton Park, Friends of Croham Hurst Woods, Friends of Farthing Downs, Friends of Grange Park, Friends of Grangewood Park, Friends of Haling Grove, Friends of Heavers Meadow, Friends of Selsdon Woods, Friends of South Norwood Country Park, Friends of Wandle Park, Jamie Audsley, Quadron, Thornton Heath, Wildlife and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Council kills off Percy the park keeper and abandons 120 parks

  1. No doubt some of the parks will be eyed by by Brick by Brick so they can throw up even more unsightly designer pads for young professionals.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am currently in Harrogate, Yorkshire and no more than 10 mins ago I congratulated a local Parks employee for the standard of their parks and gardens. She said that they too were managing cuts. Can I suggest that Croydon Officers and Councillors make a visit here to see how parks etc should be presented. They are beautiful and must attract many visitors and bring added prosperity to the town.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. sed30 says:

    Reblogged this on sed30's Blog and commented:
    😞

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Lewis White says:

    This may not be Palace’s scoreline, but useful nonetheless.

    P W P F Penny Wise, Pound Foolish.

    Volunteering is great for society and for the volunteer, as “added value” or the “icing on the cake” to a core service like parks and recreation, but to get rid of paid experienced staff, and to expect volunteers to run a whole service has got to be over-ambitious, and quickly heading for failure, except perhaps in trendy parts of New York and North London, where the great and the good can subsidise parks through their wallets and take a prominent part in their management for free.

    It is also really sad, and totally UNACCEPTABLE and WRONG for council parks officers who have trained professionally at college and over the years at work to now be made redundant or downgraded. They are far from overpaid, and in general are not only good at their jobs, but also care about the service they are part of. We need their expertise and dedication.

    Yes, we also need the local communities across the borough to be part of providing good parks. In the past, they were often excluded by “we know best” council departments. This has changed over the last 20 years, with the emergence of a new style of manager and parks staff, who welcome the community input. Also, the bad old days of park keepers who sat reading the paper in their huts when they should have been out on site, are long gone, thank goodness.

    Friends groups have appeared , and often do a great job, raising funds for things the council can’t afford, and running activities.

    But, to get rid of the paid council officer staff who bring their expertise to the service is badly flawed.
    No doubt, the basis of all this is that Local Government is being killed by funding starvation inflicted by central Government.

    It’s the latest round of the Austerity agenda, folks, and coming to a park near you soon. Your choice, at the ballot box?

    Liked by 2 people

  5. That’s where the money frittered on the useless Market prettification should have gone: into our parks so that everyone can benefit. If all the other useless ego- boosting vanity projects in which the Council has indulged, silly street furniture to name but one, had been avoided we could have had public amenities of which we could be proud. Now all one can foresee is a progressive withering of our public infrastructure, civic pride and public pleasure.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Lewis White says:

    Hi Arno, what ever one’s likes and dislikes in the local authority’s funding decisions, I think it all goes back to national government and how the “cake” is divided between local govt. NHS defence , foreign aid, benefits etc etc.

    I would love to see a breakdown of Croydon’s income and expenditure in 10 year snapshot intervals, and see the way the local authority income cake has shrunk in real terms, and how the expenditure split has varied on a departmental basis over the years.

    Were we bolstered by North Sea oil in the 70’s and 80’s?

    I sympathise with the council as they are confronted year on year by a reducing budget. It is a sad fact, but the City of London and captains of industry are always going on about “confidence” as being necessary for prosperity and “growth”, but the only confidence possible for local government is uniquely devoid of cheer, in that that they can only be confident that more and more funding cuts will happen, every year, under the current government, and probably, ( to ensure I am being fair) will happen under any government, to a degree determined by austerity, Brexit, taxes etc.

    Ironically, money invested in parks for play equipment, new and repaired paths, seating , park building repairs, and plants, will be spent in the main with local contractors and UK manufacturers and nurseries, many being based in areas with low employment, so the benefits of the expenditure are spread around the country. Money spent by us (the consumers) will so often be spent on goods made abroad, so the money is exported.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. The continuing shrinking of Local Authority Budgets makes it all the more imperative that money is spent wisely in order to improve the quality of life of residents and not on useless vanity or high pr projects. It is really difficult to see the point of spending money on things like Surrey Street while the quality of life for most residents continues to deteriorate. That money could have gone into parks, in the various ways described by Lewis White, and been of more benefit to us, local contractors and UK manufacturers. That’s the only point I am really trying to make: that the Council seems to be resolutely more and more concerned with projects that have high publicity or novelty value rather than with simple projects which improve our day to day lives.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I was made redundant last December from my job as a mobile park ranger at Croydon and was glad to go.The pressures put on the park staff with constant cuts and lack of supplies staff and equipment made it totally impossible to carry out the job properly. When the council out sourced the service it was impossible to do the job properly for the price agreed.I walk my dog around the local parks and i am disgusted by the state of them. One of the main concerns myself and my colleagues had was that the new cleaning teams who were taken on at a far lower pay rate than us are not DBS checked. This means you have staff in parks working around young children who could have a police record for anything. Under the Council we all had regular enhanced DBS checks.A very sad state of affairs and very worrying.A number of my colleagues have moved on to park ranger jobs with other boroughs and are enjoying maintaining the parks to a high standard. Such a pity Croydon do not feel the same about the once beautiful local parks.The cuts have to stop somewhere. As the old saying goes you only get what you pay for, You pay peanuts you get monkeys !!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Question for future candidates and some sitting ones: would you rather see Mike Bushell employed and the Borough have decent parks or would you rather see useless and pointless bits of street furniture, as in South End, or tatty bits of undistinguished and unnecessary wall art in a moribund market? True, the funny bells and chairs and disjointed sculptures wouldn’t pay for all that but if you add up all the unnecessary crap on which our money has been spent, it would. As the yellow, ferret headed tweeter would say: Sad! And, in Prophet of Doom mode, its going to get even worse when Westfield fails to materialise (John Lewis are almost certainly not going to come) and turns out to be, if anything, a few tatty shops surmounted by overpriced and possibly, by then, unsaleable flats.

    Liked by 1 person

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