Staffing crisis in local parks

Workers are “a dying breed”, says report.

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Have you ever wondered about the conditions of local parks? Happens that the professionals who plan, manage and maintain the parks are a dying breed – literally. A research into Hammersmith and Fulham park department showed that there are serious skills shortage affecting staff from senior management to operational levels.

The research into parks workers in six beacon councils (Northamptonshire county council, Holton borough council, and the London boroughs of Enfield, Barnet, Bexley and HF) has been commissioned by a group of environmental and parks agencies, including CABE Space, Lantra (the Sector Skills Council for environmental and land-based sector), the Countryside Agency, English Heritage, English Nature and Sport England.

The report, Parks need people need parks shows that successive financial squeezes on publicly run parks have left them in such a skills and staffing crisis that they are in danger of becoming shabby. Council parks departments are facing a staffing crisis, as many skilled parks workers approach retirement, with few younger people being trained to replace them. The report shows that the parks workforce is an ageing one, with 68% over 40 and 92% over 30 years old. More significantly, career prospects are rated as poor, very poor or non-existent by over half of those surveyed. Around 60% have been in the same post for more than a decade. Staff composition is unrepresentative of the population; with virtually no ethnic diversity, and the proportion of women in the sector is only around 10%.

In the report, the research partners call on the government to recognise the urgency of the crisis in green space skills in developing the recommendations of the Egan Review. The Egan Review - Skills for Sustainable Communities, published by the government in April 2004, sets out the skills needed to deliver decent homes and a good quality local environment across the country.

Speaking on behalf of the research partners, Julia Thrift, Director of CABE Space said: ‘We were very pleased to see Egan recognise that good parks are essential to raise the quality of life in our towns and cities. Parks and green spaces are as vital to our cities as roads and sewers, breathing life into communities, bringing beauty, character, nature, and wildlife. However, this research shows that parks are facing a real skills crisis over the next 5-10 years. Soon there may be no one left who knows how to create and care for the parks that are essential to make our town and cities better places to live and work. The sponsors of this report call on the Government to place green space skills at the heart of the national skills strategy for sustainable communities, and are jointly offering their full assistance to Government to ensure that priority is given to attracting people to plan, manage and maintain our green spaces.’

September 5, 2004