BOSF annual conference is fantastic, and even though our little patch behind Kings Heath Community Centre is only just able to be called an 'open space', and our group a tiny bunch of parents with children under 5, we've got a lot from the five years we have been members of BOSF. I was particularly interested to hear how young people were using Parks in light of the new charges levied.
Friends of Parks have been around for a few years, and have been an extremely successful initiative in engaging local people to use and care for their local parks. The concept of our parks, parks belonging to us, is being re-assessed locally and nationally. What changes should we expect - is Wandsworth Council leading the way by charging for use of playgrounds?
This year, at least, Councillor Mullaney (responsible for Parks in Brum) made it to BOSF annual conference, but seemed to have prepared his speech for the wrong audience. Vandalism, joy-riding, graffiti and prostitution do happen in our parks, but BOSF priorities (and rest of discussion on the day) are in the use of parks for all, not the abuse by a minority.
It is interesting (and I think worrying) Mullaney says our golf courses will be privatised as they are a cost burden. He suggested this will mean more money for parks. How easy would it be for our parks to similarly be considered a cost burden? Mullaney makes clear he is still willing to negotiate with any private business or voluntary body that may provide cost savings for park up-keep.
I don't think Parks are in danger of being sold off completely. What is more in question is how much consideration is given to supporting all park users, or valuing the skills of what's left of our park service staff.
Robin Bryan, Customer Liaison & Constituency Manager, alienated his audience. Same as last year, he presented results from the flawed survey BOSF had helped Park Services complete, presented as 'fact' to tell his audience what we think, and that we are actually blissfully happy with the ever improving Parks Service. But even in this topsy-turvy world of 'consultancy' and 'listening' there were some interesting statistics.
30% cuts in staff costs, but he says no effect on service provision?
Huge drop in schools using parks since introducing charges for schools, but he says service provision same as before?
Are these efficiency savings, or a reduction in provision to some of the most in need? We need to monitor, question and challenge changes in our parks provision.
More than ever our Parks needs its Friends, and we need BOSF.