Review of St Helens Council grass cutting service following budget cuts

The councils grass cutting service is just one of several areas that has seen budget reductions over the past two years
The councils grass cutting service is just one of several areas that has seen budget reductions over the past two years

St Helens Council’s grass cutting service are having to be more “imaginative” following budget cuts, councillors have been told.

The council’s grass cutting service is just one of several areas that has seen reductions over the past two years as the local authority looks to claw back £20.6 million by 2020.

A public consultation was carried out on the maintenance of parks, cemeteries and open spaces, including the ranger service consultation, in 2018.

Among the proposals in the consultation was to make savings by mowing grass less frequently, which the council said would have “environmental and ecological benefits”.

On Wednesday, the council’s environment, regeneration, housing, culture and leisure overview and scrutiny panel, received an update on the grass cutting service following concerns from residents.

Paul McHenry, the council’s service manager for environmental and transport services, confirmed the grass cutting service has been subjected to austerity cuts, as have many other services.

“We’re looking at a variety of things in this area,” he said. “It’s new techniques, new machinery.

“We’re also looking at frequencies across the borough.

“We did actually make changes in this year just gone. I think the weather, we had a really long spell of prolonged hot weather last year and that perhaps disguised some growth.

“We didn’t receive the growth that we normally do, certainly in verges and such. But we’re looking at all of these things.

“We’re looking at that in conjunction with the workforce as well because we’ve got a wealth of experience there from people who have worked for us, many of them for 30 or 40 years.

“We’re trying to be as clever as we can, as imaginative as we can with the monies that are available to provide the best service that we can and will continue to strive to do that.”

Coun Lynn Clarke, cabinet member for better neighbourhoods, said the reduction in grass cutting frequencies is purely down to austerity and budget cuts.

She said the council is trying to cope with demand with “limiting resource”.

Coun Clarke said the council is exploring plans to carry out the service via mechanisation.

Haydock councillor Martin Bond, chairman of the panel, stressed the importance of people’s perception of the borough.

Coun Bond said: “I understand that we have lost significant numbers of staff and there’s only so much you can do, there’s only so many hours of the day, there’s only so many things people can do.

“Mechanisation in itself can be an aid to this, but again I would look at the workforce then and say, how many jobs will we lose if we mechanise it all?

“At the same time people’s perception – not only externally but internally – is really important and how people feel about it, so it will be interesting to see how we go forward with that in the future.

“But it’s something that certainly elected members are mindful of, otherwise it wouldn’t have come on to this agenda.”