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Nov 12, 2010

Cut backs set to lead to a policy re-think

Following the spending review announcement, local authority departments across the country will be looking at how they can continue to maintain parks, highways and bye-ways, whilst working within the tightest budgetary constraints for decades
Shibaura mower

Following the Chancellors recent and long anticipated spending review announcement and confirmation that local authority budgets are to be cut by approximately 28% over a four year period, local authority grounds maintenance departments across the country will now be taking stock and looking at just how they can continue to maintain our parks, highways and bye-ways and open spaces to an acceptable standard whilst also working within the tightest budgetary constraints for decades.

Simon Richard UK Agent for the Reform and Shibaura Tractor ranges and also Muthing Flails suggests that a large part of the solution to the problems now confronting them is for Local Authorities to re-assess the whole machinery fleet in terms of value, performance and functionality saying “undoubtedly following the cuts the favoured route for the majority of UK local authorities will be a combination of a reduction in staffing levels and number of cuts per annum, but pressures will come from within, through much smaller overall budgets and from the general public who will continue to demand a reasonable level of open space maintenance in return for their taxes. The skill for all concerned will be to arrive at the optimum level of capital expenditure that will deliver the best service possible for the tax payer. In my opinion the ability of local authorities to achieve those two objectives of delivering cut quality at less frequent intervals will be greatly increased by taking the decision to increase the level of flails mowers as a percentage of their ground care machinery stock.

Shibaura mower2

The swing away from cylinder gangs and towards roller mowers, articulating rotaries and flail mowers is largely down to costs. Not only do rotaries and flail mowers generally cost less to purchase, but they also cost less in maintenance, particularly grinding the cylinders and adjusting the bottom blade. Added to this is the increasing tendency these days to leave the grass longer between cuts. As rotary and flail mowers continue to stride forward in popularity a number of manufacturers have introduced models over the past 12 months while others have improved existing units to make them even more appropriate for the cutting of amenity grassland, sports pitches and golf courses. The quality of cut afforded by flail mowers has increased so dramatically over the years that these machines are no longer kept for the rough areas. Smaller, lightweight versions are also finding employment on golf courses and cricket wickets.

So what are the benefits afforded by the flail mower when compared to their cylinder counterpart. Quite simply the flail mower works by slicing the grass with a blade and cutting off the tips of the grass, they are available in a variety of sizes and have a number of distinct advantages. Where side debris is concerned the flail mower will not grab and throw debris to the left or right sides of the mower during cutting making it extremely useful for cutting areas such as streets and close to buildings. The flail mower cuts the grass in a very distinctive way and the finished appearance will usually take on a striped appearance similar to a cylinder mower. The flail is an extremely versatile piece of equipment and has the capability to tick a number of municipal ‘task boxes’ such as offering a rough, fine or smooth cut finish, the latter being particularly suited to golf course or football playing surface work.

Geoff Lake Area Parks Manager for Leicester City Council also feels that the current economic climate will be the driver of a move towards an increase in the use of flails, commenting “my particular authority probably reflects the situation nationwide in as much as we are currently undertaking a complete review of how we can deliver the best service in a much harsher economic climate. The outcome of that review remains to be seen but I can say that, in my opinion, if the decision is taken to take the cut reduction route, then we would have no alternative but to make the change to an increase use of flails as we would be working with longer and wetter grass”

Steven McInroy, Managing Director of SGM Contracts the UK’s largest hirer of grass cutting equipment, also shares the view that in light of the recent cuts announced by the government there is movement within a large number of local authorities to review cutting practices as a means of cost reduction and increasing efficiencies “we are finding discussions with customers are now very much based on cost reductions and efficiencies, and how we as a company can assist. The capital cost of a ride-on with a flail is significantly lower than that of a cylinder mower and this along with the reduced maintenance costs have a significant bearing on the annual hire costs for our customers”

Simon Richard concluded “A reduction in frequency of cuts per year, possibly in the order of fifty per cent, will inevitably result in the need for grass to be cut when both longer and wet. Whilst the cylinder option will undoubtedly struggle to cope with such conditions the flail is far more effective and efficient in longer wet grass conditions as the discharge area reaches the full width of the machine. Perhaps the main claim of the flail option is the ability to deliver very acceptable surfaces in all grass conditions and at a fraction of the cost of the alternatives”