The future of a council grounds maintenance company, set up in the hopes it might bolster finances, is set to be discussed at an extraordinary meeting next week.
A report before South Kesteven District Council’s Joint Meeting of the Overview and Rural Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committees on Monday will look at whether to retain EnvironmentSK Limited, insource the service or put the service out to tender.
It also hints that, among other savings, council tenants on Assisted Garden Schemes could soon be charged by SKDC in a bid to recover costs associated with the maintenance of around 450 gardens in the district.
EnvironmentSK began operation in March 2019. Prior to this former SKDC leader Councillor Matthew Lee told Local Democracy Reporters that the plan was to bring grounds maintenance – at the time contracted out in the region of £1 million – back under authority control.
Although money would not necessarily be saved, he hoped it would generate an income by selling its services elsewhere.
However, the report on Monday says the business’ external contracting “only accounts for 9% of the overall turnout”.
The total cost to the council for maintenance for 2022/23 is £1.016M. This is split between £428,000 Housing Revenue Account (HRA) and £588,000 General Fund.
“In assessing any future potential options for the delivery of grounds maintenance it will be important for the council to consider its current priorities,” said the report.
“EnvironmentSK Limited was established at a time when there was a greater emphasis on attracting external work and commercialising the service.
“However, the Corporate Plan 2020-23 places a greater emphasis on managing finances and services being delivered more efficiently and effectively.
“To ensure the council is achieving best value whilst maintaining a high quality service it is necessary to explore a range of delivery models.”
Several councillors have since sat on the company, the most recent to be installed was Councillor Adam Stokes who replaced Councillor Robert Reid after he was in position for less than three months.
SKDC Cabinet member for Waste Services and Climate Change, Cllr Mark Whittington: said: “Monday’s meeting marks the beginning of an options appraisal when the committee will be asked if three potential options should be investigated further.
“We do not yet know which of these would deliver the best value for money while providing the high levels of service required, which is why this process is being undertaken.
“The results of the… appraisal will provide the framework of a recommendation to cabinet on the future delivery of the grounds maintenance service.”
Independent Councillor Ashley Baxter said he was surprised by the agenda item.
He disagreed with putting the contract out to the private sector for tender and would rather it was all brought inhouse.
Councillor Baxter said: “The reason we set ESK up was supposed to be that we would have more control of our grounds maintenance.
“It’s true we’ve had more flexibility but we appear to have failed to manage our finances properly and that seems to be the excuse for going out to private contractor.”
He added: “To me the free market wasn’t working and I have no reason to believe that taking it back out will help.”
Councillor Baxter understood there was a £150k loss but Local Democracy Reporters understands it was closer to £40k in 2021 with the council set to announce a profit in the latest figures.