A COUNCIL is scrapping a street cleaning team as it can no longer attract prisoners to do the work.
Inmates from HMP Prescoed, an open prison near Coed-y-Paen, south west of Usk, have previously worked as part of grounds maintenance teams which clear litter and carry out simple gardening tasks around Monmouthshire.
But the county council is planning to reduce its ground maintenance operations and scrap the Community Improvement Teams which the prisoners had worked as a part of.
Carl Touhig, head of neighbourhood services for Monmouthshire County Council, said the teams are being axed as fewer and fewer prisoners are willing to get their hands dirty tending to parks, footpaths and cemeteries as well as clearing up after events such as the Usk Show.
He told a council scrutiny committee: “We currently work with prisoners from Prescoed but it’s getting more and more difficult to get those clients to come out and work with us and that is putting more pressure on the existing team and pushing that work back on the general workforce.”
A council document states prisoners are paid “scale point 1” which is understood to be the National Minimum Wage of £9.50 an hour for those aged 23 and over.
But the council report says prisoners are finding better paid work: “The hourly rate is less than they are able to earn working on other placements and we have seen a reduction in clients over the years.”
The report warns support for initiatives such as towns 'In Bloom', where towns enter floral and cleanliness competitions, could be cut back: “We may no longer be able to support some of the more costly projects like Usk Show, In Bloom etc to allow more work in the wider community
The council’s intention is to maintain one community improvement team, until this October, to plan the transition of its work into its wider grounds maintenance and cleansing teams and work with communities to see where it should maintain operations.
The shakeup is expected to save the council £105,000 in reduced staff costs and will also result in four and half full-time jobs lost through voluntary redundancy.
Conservative councillor for Llanfoist and Govilon, Tomos Davies, said he was concerned at how scrapping the teams would impact the county’s rural areas “and tackle growing concerns about litter across the county”.
Mr Touhig also said a litter picker post will be replaced with a full time mechanical road sweeper operator which he said would allow it do more but he said manual sweeping will also be continued.
The council’s report has however warned that axing the improvement teams will likely lead to delays to work requested by local councillors and council departments such as removing benches or clearing paths will be delayed.
The report states: “Cessation of the service will mean delays but we will do our best to maintain a presence with the wider workforce. Works that offer wider community benefits will be prioritised and supported through the wider grounds and cleansing teams.”
As part of a reduction in grounds maintenance the council will also further reduce its grass mowing schedule.
Mowing has already been reduced from 16 cuts to 14 a year as part of the Nature Isn’t Neat campaign, which aims to boost biodiversity by letting grass and plants grow longer, and some will now be reduced to 10.
Mr Touhig said cuts to maintain paths will still be carried out and some areas will still have 14 cuts a year.
Playing fields, children’s parks, verges and safety cuts will continue at the current levels but all other areas would be reduced and the reduction will result in the loss of two full-time equivalent posts.