All Party Parliamentary Group for Parks – A Report
The Westminster MPs’ All Party Parliamentary Group for Parks held a special zoom meeting on 8th July 2021. 6 or 7 MPs attended and around 150 members of the public (many of course very active in the parks sector). The aim was to review progress, or more accurately the lack of progress, since the Local Government’s Select Committee 2017 Report of its Inquiry: ‘The Future of Public Parks’.
The chair of the Select Committee, Clive Betts MP was present and spoke about his Committee’s Report and Recommendations and the need for greater funding generally for Local Authorities and their public services. Also contributing as a panel were Paul Rabbitts of the Parks Management Association (focusing on the need to expand parks resources, increase staffing levels and ensure high standards), Ian Baggott of the Midlands Parks Forum (on the importance of adequate and skilled staffing and effective partnership-working), Allison Ogden-Newton of Keep Britain Tidy (on Love Parks Week and the need to cherish and celebrate our parks) and myself as Chair of the National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces (see below and attached). At the end the chairs of both the APPG and the Select Committee agreed to look again into the Future of Public Parks report and its recommendations, into what has happened to the Parks Action Group liaison and advisory body, and into Government commitment to parks.
I enclose below my presentation (and I attach my Briefing document circulated to the MPs in advance of the meeting). I also enclose the very lively ‘chat’ contributions made during the meeting.
Dave Morris, NFPGS Chair
NFPGS PRESENTATION TO THE MEETING
Thank you for inviting me to address the Group.
The National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces is the voice of the Friends Groups movement of over 7,000 local groups of parks users with around 1m members throughout the UK.
I hope you have had a chance to read my detailed briefing paper, summarising the Select Committee’s ‘Future of Public Parks’ report, the subsequent activities of the Government/Sector liaison and advisory body, the Parks Action Group, and other sector initiatives to try to address the ever-deepening underfunding and understaffing crisis faced by the country’s parks and green spaces.
Tens of millions of people regularly use and need this essential, unique and massively popular public service, our Natural Health Service. The Select Committee report recognised that our parks were ‘at a tipping point‘ and failure to to ensure ‘the resources they need to be sustained could have severe consquences‘. The Committee pledged to revisit the issue to ‘assess what progress has been made’, and urged everyone ‘to continue to hold local and national government to account’.
Since then the situation has unfortunately deteriorated further, at a time when they have never been so popular or valued – as recognised by the Prime Minister publicly insisting they remain open throughout the pandemic. Despite the extensive voluntary efforts of those of us in the Parks Action Group – not to mention the herioic efforts of parks staff and volunteers in every corner of the country, the Government has so far failed to back up its pledges of support with real resources.
Parks must be properly recognised*, funded** and staffed in order to fulfil their vital role for the whole population. It is estimated that the entire service is currently having to try to survive on less than £1bn per year (see Briefing paper reference 7), but requires much more to address and reverse the funding crisis. As my briefing paper sets out, recent in-depth reports by the National Trust and Friends of the Earth identify respectively the need for an immediate £5.5bn Green Recovery Fund or annual capital and revenue investment of £4bn per year for 5 years.
With a nod to the 1 million members of FGs, the 322,000 who signed the ‘make parks a statutory service’ petition to the Select Cttee Inquiry 5 years ago, and the 24 national organisations who have endorsed the Charter for Parks, I call for the the Select Committee to urgently reconvene their Public Inquiry to review the progress since, or lack of it, and to review their Recommendations.
Dave Morris, National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces* In response to comments by Clive Betts MP that a new statutory duty for parks would be complex and wouldn’t happen, I added that:
– the previous 2002 Select Committee Parks Report had recommended that parks be a statutory service
– the 2017 report had felt that ‘other mechanisms are more likely to achieve the outcomes we all want to see’ (but this has clearly failed to materialise)
– that former Parks Minister Rishi Sunak MP had not rejected the idea but had responded to the Charter for Parks in July 2018 saying that Government policy ‘requires [Government] departments to justify why new statutory duties are being placed on local authorities and identify additional funding towards any additional costs’.
** In response to a question on fundingI pointed out the management of 27,000 parks is an incredibly cheap service compared to any other, considering the wide range of daily benefits to almost the entire population. The Government – which has recently found hundreds of ££billions for important pandemic services and for what it considers to be ‘essential infrastructure’ (like HS2) – could easily earmark the desperately-needed extra £2-3bn per year needed for parks.