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BIRMINGHAM CITY COUNCIL AWARD FIRST CONTRACT UNDER BEST VALUE

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The first grounds maintenance contract to be awarded under the government's best value principles will see sweeping...
The first grounds maintenance contract to be awarded under the government's best value principles will see sweeping changes in service delivery and a return to direct local authority control.

'This contract is the first to be awarded under the new best value guidelines and, where local authorities embrace these principles, we can look forward to a new era of responsive and high-quality public services. That is what 'best value' means,' says Birmingham council leader Theresa Stewart.

Birmingham is one of 37 pilot authorities to try out the new guidelines which replace the former government's compulsory competitive tendering.

The return of park keepers to five parks in the south-west of the city is one of the most notable aspects of the new contract-currently held by a Dutch-owned company 'Continental Landscapes'.

Park keepers disappeared as part of cost-cutting measures when CCT was introduced for parks and grounds maintenance in 1985. The replacement system of 'best value' places greater emphasis on quality of services and consulting local people. The idea of reintroducing park keepers received massive public support during a consultation exercise earlier this year.

Other innovations that will now take effect from the end of February include letting residents know which day the grass cutting teams will arrive to tackle the verges in each street.

'Many of our customers and citizens told us they were not happy with the way our parks and green areas were being maintained. In the Northfield area we consulted widely with them and they helped us to come forward with a new and exciting range of proposals for dealing with these works,' says Brenda Clarke, chair of Birmingham's leisure services committee that voted through the proposals.

'We are very much aware that this is one of the first best value contracts in the country, and we are determined to see better quality services and to continue to liaise with people on developing our services,' she adds.

As well as the reintroduction of park keepers to five major parks and

named-day mowing for all highway verges and housing areas, the contract proposals also reflect concerns for the environment and for local employment. All green waste materials arising from the contract will be fed into a major recycling and composting scheme and, on the jobs front, the council is committed to the development of a new parks apprenticeship scheme.

The existing contract for grounds maintenance work in Northfield is the first of ten former CCT contracts in Birmingham to come up for renewal. The contract currently held by Continental Landscapes will now expire at the end of February 1999.

As a result of a limited tendering exercise the city council's own

Birmingham Parks and Nurseries Organisation has been awarded the contract currently held by Continental Landscapes. The in-house operation will take over at the end of February 1999 for an initial period of two years. Under the Transfer of Undertakings Regulations the workforce currently employed by Continental Landscapes will transfer to the new local authority management.

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