Agenda item

Growth in Resources for the Grounds Maintenance Element of the Environmental Services Contract (Agenda item 9)

Report of the Executive Member for the Environmental Wellbeing & Communications Portfolio (Lady Fisher).


The Environmental Services Manager presented the report that advised Members of the additional workload within the Grounds Maintenance operation due to growth in open space land, to offer options for reacting to this growth, and to make a recommendation for action going forward. 


Option 2, which was the preferred option, did come in well within the existing budget but would increase with inflation year on year.


Serco had been experiencing difficulties in providing the standard of service required by the contract, including key performance targets, as additional land added to their workload over recent years had significantly exceeded the capacity of existing resources.


Responding to the concerns, as requested by Members at the Executive Board meeting held on 15 November 2010, with regard to the difference in cost if the grass cutting regime was reduced from 3 weekly to 4/5 weekly cuts and the transfer of land adopted under S106 agreements, the Environmental Services Manager explained that the adjustment to the grass cutting regime, in cost terms, had been set out in the options listed in the report.  There were savings to be had if the number of cuts were reduced.  However, it was pointed out that, in the summer of this year, due to the exceptionally dry weather conditions, the number of cuts had been reduced, but in a typical growing season, reducing the number of cuts could have a negative noticeable impact on the visual amenity and customer satisfaction.


As far as the latter was concerned, the Environmental Services Manager had engaged in detailed discussions with the Development Services Manager, the S106 Officer and the Land Management Officer.  All had confirmed that no formal policy was in place to transfer land adopted under S106 Agreements to Town Councils.  It was understood negotiations had taken place concerning some retrospective transfers from Breckland to the Town Council with limited success and, as yet, no back-to-back transfers had been attempted.


Notwithstanding the issues with such Agreements, the Executive Member for the Environmental Wellbeing & Communications Portfolio pointed out that the Environmental Services Team had successfully managed to reduce the potential cost of the contract by 10% whilst still delivering similar outputs.


The Executive Member for the Corporate Development & Performance Portfolio was pleased to hear that negotiations had taken place with Serco and was delighted that no additional monies were being requested.  He was also pleased to note that if Members were mindful to approve the preferred option, the Council’s bio-diversity schemes would be maintained.


The Overview & Scrutiny Commission Chairman reported that he had attended a recent Parish Council meeting where the reaction of taking over land in the parish had been favourable.  Referring to the S106 Agreements, he felt that a policy would need to be established as much land would be coming forward over the next 15 years.


The options available to Members were as follows:


Option 1


This option would give a high level of assurance that the maintenance of public open spaces would be fully compliant with the current contract specification and performance indicators in their entirety, and at least until a further 5% growth of contracted areas was achieved. This option consisted of 2 additional full time operatives, an additional vehicle, trailer, mower and associated gardening plant/equipment. This option required an annual contract uplift of £66, 200 in the year 2011-12, which was £6,200 above the budgeted amount.


Option 2


This option consisted of 1 full time operative, vehicle, trailer, mower and associated gardening plant/equipment. A further additional operative was employed during the mowing season only, i.e. April to November. This ensured that the grass maintenance element of the service was compliant with current specification and performance indicators; at least until a further 5% growth of contracted areas was achieved. However, an allowance within the specification/performance would need to be made with regard to other elements of the specification such as hedge and shrub bed maintenance. This option required an annual contract uplift of £55,300 in the year 2011-12, which was £4,700 below the budgeted amount.


Option 3


This option consisted of employing 1 full time operative. This would provide minimal benefit to the grass maintenance as there was no additional plant allowed for, but would assist with winter maintenance and additional works. Current specification/performance would have to be adjusted. This would mean grass maintenance regime rising from 3 weekly cuts to 4/5 weekly cuts. This was likely to have a noticeable negative impact on the visual amenity and customer satisfaction in many neighbourhoods and during periods of sustained growth. This option required an annual contract uplift of £21,800.00 in the year 2011-12, which was £38,200 below the budgeted amount.


Option 4


This option was to maintain the status quo in terms of resources (operatives and plant). Current specification/performance on all elements of the service would have to be re-negotiated with Serco to allow for a reduction in the service. For example, grass maintenance regime reducing from a 3 weekly cycle of cuts to a 4/5 weekly cycle of cuts. This was likely to have a significant impact on the visual amenity of many neighbourhoods, and an associated negative impact upon customer satisfaction during periods of sustained growth. There were no financial cost implications for this option, unless additional responsive action was sanctioned as a result of high levels of customer dissatisfaction, and it therefore represented and overall saving of £60,000 of the existing budgeted amount.




Whilst not a statutory duty, the grounds maintenance of the Council’s parks and open spaces, was one of the Council’s higher profile services. Service provision was already fairly rudimentary, and it was anticipated that any reduction in service standards would be perceived as unacceptable by residents and visitors.


A reduction in service standards could lead to an increase in littering, fly-tipping etc if certain areas were perceived as unkempt – thus adding additional cost to other service areas.


The Grounds Maintenance service was a key tool in delivering aspects of the Council’s Environment Strategy, particularly in relation to encouraging bio-diversity. It also had strong links to other key agendas such as health, well-being and community safety. Any reduction in service standards might have a consequential negative impact upon these agenda areas.

Option 2 did come in well within the existing budget, and substantially negated the need for very visible reductions in service quality. It had been accepted that option 1 was not viable as it required growth in the budget. Equally, options 3 and 4 required such significant service reductions that the sense of community pride could begin to diminish in the absence of some viable alternative mechanism for ensuring the quality of the local environment across the district.





1)           the payment of an additional £55,300 in the Gross Annual Service Charge of the contract, as budgeted, to meet additional resource demands of the Grounds Maintenance element of the Environmental Services contract for 2011/12, be released; and


2)           a clear policy be developed in partnership with Town and Parish Councils so that the transfer of land adopted under Section 106 Agreements can be transferred to Town and Parish Councils. 


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