Growing Pains 2
GROUNDS FOR CONCERN
The Stirrer hears rumours that council officers were hauled over the coals by their elected bosses in Birmingham yesterday after a cock-up over the city’s annual £20million grounds maintenance budget.
An executive group of cabinet members wanted to know why the tendering process for pruning parks and keeping council estates in trim saw the successful bidder for Erdington and Hodge Hill – a company called Vale – backed out after winning the contract.
The answer – which councillors didn’t like hearing, of course – was that the amount of cash allocated in the first place simply wasn’t enough to enable the job to be done to a high enough standard.
Yet the result is that the specification is now likely to be lowered all round to fit within the budgetary straitjacket.
Contracts were recently awarded according to a formula which gave a 50% weighting to quality and 50% to cost; and after the previous contracts had been frozen severeal years ago at £17.5million there was hope that standards would dramatically improve.
Instead of poorly trained staff being hired on short-term contracts, the idea was to recruit more permanent workers including extra on-site park keepers.
All was going swimmingly until Vale secured a contract with a price so low they couldn’t fulfil it.
The next lowest tender was worth an extra £600,000 – blowing apart a budget that was already creaking at the seams.
Now the only way to meet Council’s financial limit is to reduce the spec all round.
In practice this will result in fewer flowerbeds and shrubs – and more of what one parks insider described as “green deserts with lollipop trees” ie dull, but easily maintained open spaces.
The fault lies not with the officers who have to implement these guidelines, but with their political masters who have consistently under-estimated the value of beautiful, well-tended grounds.
As one observer put it: "Politicians ask for the ridiculous - but then blame someone else when it doesn't work".
See also Tree's a crowd
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