Calls for council to sell itself more

CALLS have been made for a council to be more “aggressive” when it comes to marketing services.

It comes after it was revealed that 50 per cent of schools in town have not renewed their grounds maintenance contract with Hartlepool Borough Council in favour of private landscaping firms.

Officers admit there has been a breakdown in communication with schools at a meeting of the cabinet committee.

Members said the local authority has a good reputation, but needs to sell itself more.

Labour councillor Peter Jackson, portfolio holder for regeneration and economic development and skills, said: “We have to be more aggressive and fight back.”

Officers say the loss of contracts has put the council’s schools ground maintenance team at risk.

Two staff will remain in that area, but two others are expected to be reassigned to other areas within the department.

The cabinet committee met recently to discuss making savings of £45,000 from the parks and countryside budget.

A report to the meeting said: “What is clear is that the service has failed to respond to a changed business environment, and unless this is tackled it will become increasingly hard to recapture its lost position.”

Councillors said schools were attracted to private firms because they were cheaper.

Labour group leader Chris Simmons, portfolio holder for children’s services, said: “For 50 per cent of schools not to have taken up the service there has to be something wrong with that?”

Denise Ogden, assistant director of neighbourhood services, said there had been a breakdown in communications on both sides and that schools had been heavily marketed by four private firms.

She added that the local authority needs to be responsive and to not “sit back” as schools will be renewing contracts on a yearly basis.

Coun Simmons asked if officers had considered offering three-year contracts at a reduced price.

It was confirmed that is one approach being looked at.

Coun Jackson added: “We have to adapt to the way that the schools and other facilities are being marketed.

“We need to take a good long look at ourselves to make ourselves more marketable.”

Dave Stubbs, director of regeneration and neighbourhoods, said: “Very often schools do come back to us.

“But there will be a tipping point where there won’t be a service for them to come back to.”

The £45,000 saving for 2012-13 has been made by removing one vacant permanent post within the current grounds maintenance team and more control over overtime payments.

The parks and countryside team is responsible for parks and country park areas, cemeteries, outdoor play areas and nature conservation areas.