Sir John Bourn, Head of the National Audit Office, reported to Parliament today that to build on the progress it has made in recent years The Royal Parks needs to continue to develop its core plans for promoting greater access to the Parks, strengthen the way it manages income generating activities and benchmark its performance against others in the parks sector.
The report covers eight Royal Parks which encompass over 5,000 acres of land in London, some 280 buildings, statues and memorials and over 100 miles of roads. The Parks are enjoyed by millions of people each year and are highly regarded for their horticultural standards. There is, though, a backlog of works maintenance. The Agency is reviewing the extent of this backlog (previously estimated at some £110 million) and the level of investment required to address it.
The Agency has been developing a number of strategies aimed at encouraging access to the Parks and these could be strengthened by setting action plans with targets for individual Parks and updating its marketing and publicity material. The Agency is also building on successful educational projects by developing an education programme to cover all the Parks, although the Agency’s capacity to deliver such a programme needs to be addressed.
The Agency generates income to supplement its annual grant from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Self-generated income has risen from £4 million to £6.1 million in three years and the Agency has established an independent charity which is aiming to raise an additional £5 million in 2004. Commercial events are a significant source of income for the Agency although the commercial risks need to be better managed and the Agency needs a more reliable basis for ensuring that it recovers its costs and makes a profit.
The Agency has strengthened its management capacity at senior levels by bringing in external expertise, and going forward there is more the Agency could do to learn from, and benchmark against, other parks at home and abroad. The report suggests, for example, that the Agency should consider participating in the Green Flag Awards Scheme. This would be an opportunity to benchmark the Parks against a widely applied standard and receive an objective assessment of what the Parks offer visitors.