Hard up parks department banking on reinventing itself as a health service

Islington Council’s cash-strapped parks department is being forced to look further afield for funds by redefining itself as a health service in its own right.

Town Hall officers in charge of parks hope that Camden and Islington’s clinical commissioning group (CCG), the statutory NHS body responsible for health services in the two boroughs, could be a new source of money at a time when council funding is thin on the ground.

Barry Emmerson, Islington Council’s head of parks, laid out the idea during a debate over whether the council’s environment and regeneration scrutiny committee should recommend that the Town Hall allocates more money to his department.

Emmerson said: “Sustaining the staff we’ve got is a good starting point. In terms of getting extra funding in, one of the things we’re looking at is how we can draw in more money, not necessarily just from the council but from the whole health agenda.

“If we can centre ourselves as a health service and actually contribute to that prevention of health issues, can we get funding through Camden & Islington clinical commissioning group?

“As much as I’d love money from the council, given the financial pressures that everyone is under at the moment I think that would be quite challenging. Sustaining the [staffing] levels we’ve got in this day and age would be really good.”

The parks boss added that his department plans to give training to community groups on how to secure other funding streams to which the council is not directly entitled.

It is understood that the scrutiny committee will recommend that the Town Hall sustains existing levels of parks team staff whose roles are focused on developing and supporting community engagement, as well as encouraging the department to “seek opportunities” to increase staffing levels where possible.

Cllr Mouna Hamitouche MBE (Lab, Barnsbury) said: “Is there any way to make a recommendation that the council can allocate more funding, because we cannot afford to lose staff? Parks are very important to all of us. I go to many many parks, and we can see the difference.”

Cllr Rowena Champion (Lab, Barnsbury), who chaired the committee, responded: “In the circumstances where we have had a 70 per cent cut in our government grant between 2010 and 2020, I would find it quite difficult for the scrutiny committee to say, ‘You must allocate your funds in this way.'”