0 Parks, gardens and contracting

Parks managers believe that they can avoid most of the effects of the recession, but fear that local authority budgets will be squeezed over the coming year.

Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council parks manager Steve Smith explained: "Our council has a £17m budget deficit. It might have to drop 850 jobs. We're not currently in the firing line, but things could change."

The parks and countryside manager for Scarborough, Roger Burnett, said: "I'm worried we're going to be put under pressure to cut training. But we ignore the future at our peril." Others said they were being asked to reduce administrative costs.

Another problem is that the flow of regeneration money, lottery money and central government funding, which has helped capital development in parks, is starting to slow down. Burnett said innovation was essential to keep standards high. "We are working closely with friends groups and we're putting wildflowers along the cliff slopes because it's cheaper and safer to maintain than grass."

New visitors are seen as vital. Scarborough is trying to increase visits by schoolchildren and at Oldham, new cafes are being used to enhance the parks' facilities. Managers believe that in a recession, with less money for holidays, more people will rely on parks for leisure activities. Smith said: "We represent a cheap day out." He said people were increasingly recognising the environmental and health benefits of parks.

Local authorities expect to be asked to provide more allotments in 2009.

Even in the City of London, more allotments are needed. "We will have to be clever about this. We are looking for short-term sites for allotments or community gardens," said City of London director of open spaces Sue Ireland.

Not all changes involve money. Parks managers have to be more responsive to political activists. At Bristol, for example, managers are now routinely liaising with the local parks forum, which is keen to defend trees.

Professional gardening: Skills scheme 'breakthrough' offers hope for future

Professional gardeners will be hit like all other sectors by the tough economy this year - and are increasingly finding they need to adapt to climate change. But they feel positive about the cross-sector initiative tackling the skills crisis.

Professional Gardeners' Guild (PGG) chairman Tony Arnold said: "The credit crunch will still affect gardeners on private estates. As their employer's income comes down, the gardening department will be one of the first areas where cutbacks are considered."

He added: "We are not expecting lots of redundancies within horticulture but as people leave, their positions might not be filled and, overall, there will be fewer jobs available."

The head of gardens and landscape at English Heritage, John Watkins, said the public might not be able to afford to visit historic gardens in 2009, reducing English Heritage's income. However, he added: "On the other hand, the public may join membership schemes as they may see them as good value over the year."

Watkins said: "Climate change is also an issue because we are getting plants and pathogens acting in different ways. There will also be more new diseases. Bleeding canker on horse chestnut and the increasing number of hosts for Phytophthora ramorum is becoming more of a concern."

Professional gardeners at historic properties, including those at 17 National Trust gardens across the UK, are currently fighting the spread of P. ramorum and P. kernoviae.

National Trust head of head of parks and gardens Mike Calnan said: "Dr David Slawson from the Plant Health & Seeds Inspectorate has drawn up bio-security measures for trust gardeners and will be holding a workshop soon to share these guidelines with other organisations."

But the sector is encouraged by the launch of the Grow website at the Green Skills Seminar last November, which aims to promote horticulture to school leavers and careers advisers.

Watkins said: "For me, the most important issue is still dealing with the skills crisis. We need to get more organisations behind the Grow campaign."

Calnan said the Grow website has been a "huge breakthrough". Arnold agrees: "The Grow initiative means the future looks very good in terms of dealing with the skills crisis. There are exciting times ahead and we at the PGG will do all we can to encourage people to use it."

- Contracting: Firms look to the public sector for security

The big contractors believe that work for public authorities and utility companies will be relatively safe this year. However, private contracts might be more risky.

Wyevale Grounds Maintenance managing director David Brew said he has already signed contracts for 80 per cent of the work that his firm needs for 2009. "The other 20 per cent might be more difficult," he said. He said private landowners were cutting back development work, such as replanting trees or renewing borders. "Some local authorities are also trying to reduce costs by cutting the grass less frequently - typically going from 16 to 14 cuts per year," he said.

Recession has meant there is less trust within the industry. "People are now asking for letters from our banks to show we've got the funds to carry out contracts. In the past they only wanted to see our accounts, but that's no longer good enough," said Brew.

Source:- Horticulture Week

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