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Bankside Open Spaces Trust urges council to rethink 78 per cent cut to ecology grants

Helen Firminger, director of Bankside Open Spaces Trust, this week addressed Southwark's cabinet on behalf of groups whose work is likely to be hit by swinging cuts to the borough's environment and ecology programme.

Bankside Open Spaces Trust urges council to rethink 78 per cent cut to ecology grants
BOST celebrated its 10th anniversary last summer but the organisation fears for its future as the council prepares to make big cuts

The environmental groups formed one of 13 delegations who spoke at Southwark Town Hall on Tuesday night as the nine Labour cabinet members prepare to agree their final budget recommendations.

Helen Firminger was speaking on behalf of Walworth Garden Farm, Surrey Docks Farm, London Wildlife Trust, Trust for Urban Ecology, Pumphouse Educational Museum and Bankside Open Spaces Trust who all receive core funding from Southwark's environment and ecology programme.

In the current year the programme provides 311,536 of funding to seven projects across the borough. The council proposes to cut that amount by 184,000 in the next financial year and by 61,000 in the following year, potentially leaving seven organisations chasing just 66,536 in 2012-13.

This 311,536 funding from the council enables the six organisations represented in the delegation to bring in a further 1,035,464 from other sources and to employ a total of 45 staff.

SE1-based Bankside Open Spaces Trust, which celebrated its tenth birthday last summer, receives 46,000 from the council's environment and ecology programme towards its total budget of 320,000.

Without the cash from the council, external funders would be less likely to support the organisation's work maintaining and improving local green spaces.

The delegation highlighted the valuable volunteering opportunities provided by the environmental projects in the borough. Ms Firminger said that volunteering provided a valuable stepping-stone for people who have been out of work for an extended period due to illness or parenting responsibilities and were not yet ready to enter the workforce full-time.

Ms Firminger also pointed out that if organisations like BOST were to fail, the council would face increased costs to maintain publicly-owned parks – such as Red Cross Garden – which are currently looked after by the voluntary sector.

Council leader Peter John admitted that the scale of the cuts to the green projects "sounds pretty desperate" and said that he had spoken to the cabinet member for environment, Cllr Barrie Hargrove, about the possibility of the council entering into contractual arrangements with local environmental projects rather than providing a block grant.

"Hopefully it's not quite as bleak as the paper appears," he said.

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