A few thoughts from an old parkie

I thought I would take a moment to share a few of my thoughts which I must state are not those of the PMA, but solely mine. Many of us are out Green Flag Award judging at the minute and being judged too. This as ever is all really positive stuff and I throughly enjoyed my judging up on the Wirral this week. I came across an old bear pit in one of the parks I judged, the remnants of an old pleasure gardens from early Victorian times – a fantastic piece of history but recollecting pretty awful times when bear baiting was seen as entertaining. Which leads me on to neatly, the topic of my ramblings – the recent elections.

Most of us work in local government, whether County, District, Borough, Unitary, Parish or Town Council. Most parks these days are managed and maintained by local government, with the remainder either by Trusts, volunteers or charitable organisations. We know that mid-term elections tend to throw up lots of surprises and are often seen as protestations against the incumbent government. These elections were in my view remarkable for a number of reasons:-

  • The scale of the kick-back to the current administration nationally
  • The number of councils that moved to NOC – No overall Control
  • The large numbers of Green Party Councillors that gained seats with one council becoming entirely Green control.

Is this a bad thing? Well not necessarily so, as such results serve as a reminder to government – whether local or national that democracy does work and voices can be heard. It is however always sad to see such low voter turn outs. Seeing more Green Party Councillors has to be good – the environment gaining a louder voice in the hallowed halls of towns and cities.

What is a challenge though is the effect of such changes on council officers and those of us who have to work within the sector. Many councils still do annual election cycles so there never appears to be stability or a time to deliver stuff longer term. Councils that become NOC then become challenging as political parties then have to form coalitions or alliances, and these can be very challenging. Come the next elections, they are likely to revert back to ‘the norm’. Was Middlesbrough going to remain Conservative for too long? No not really.

Such issues make our lives challenging, delivering long term visions and policies, especially around climate change, investment priorities, pot holes over park benches? the relationships we build up over time with cabinet members and portfolio holders, council leaders – wiped away over night. We know working in a political environment has its challenges, but the arena we now work in is significantly harder. The nature of politics has changed – it is much more vitriolic, at times toxic (recent headlines at Middlesbrough, Croydon, Liverpool and Southend on Sea indicative of the challenges there).

I have no answer to this, but perhaps this is something we should be picking up on in learning and development of our teams, especially those in leadership, management and above – working in a changing, challenging and at times choppy political arena. It can only help us in the long term. That, or we re-open the bear pit up on the Wirral.

All the best

Paul Rabbitts