This is a report about what has happened to spending on parks and open spaces (“parks”) by Scottish local authorities. To provide context, the report also looks at spending on the wider group of local authority neighbourhood services. Spending is measured both gross and net of income. Gross spending adjusted for inflation (“real” gross spending) is a measure of the volume of service provided. Income includes grants and reimbursements as well as customer and client receipts.
The main findings are:
1. Spending on parks has been hit harder than spending in general. From a peak in 2008/09, parks have seen deeper cuts in spending (down by a third) than neighbourhood services (down a fifth) and all local government services (down a tenth). Half the fall in spending on parks had happened by 2010/11.
2. Parks have been hit about as hard in Scotland as England. Between 2009/10 and 2017/18, the percentage fall in net spending on parks was the same in Scotland as in England. The fall for neighbourhood services was less in Scotland.
3. Revenue has been less buoyant in Scotland than England. Customer and client receipts produce less income for neighbourhood services in Scotland than in England. Rising in England, this income has been falling in Scotland.
4. The all-Scotland parks average is only a rough guide to what has happened in individual local authority areas. Over the five years to 2017/18, 10 authorities saw no falls in gross spending on parks while 5 saw falls more than double the average.
5. Neighbourhood services have a low priority attached to them compared with other services. APSE has identified 2012/13 as the minimum sustainable level for local government UK-wide. Budget data suggests that after inflation, total council service spending in Scotland in 2019/20 is above the 2012/13 level whereas spending on neighbourhood services is below.
Neighbourhood services are universal services which contribute to wellbeing and are seen by the public as a core responsibility of local government. Parks are one of their most visible elements. It has been estimated that parks contribute £2.8bn per year to Scotland’s community health and wellbeing. Through their contribution to better health, they save NHS Scotland some £9m per year in fewer GP visits alone. The hollowing out of neighbourhood services which has been taking place undermines the essence of local government.