Merton Community Forums Under Threat

Frequency of meetings set for cut

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The frequency of community meetings run by Merton council is to be reduced as part of cost-saving measures.

There are five community forums covering the borough - in Wimbledon, Colliers Wood, Raynes Park, Mitcham and Morden - and they currently meet four times a year.

There are plans to reduce the frequency to an annual meeting in April after a council review of the forums revealed they are attended by an average of 15-33 residents and cost the equivalent of at least £80 per attendee.

But Conservative Finance Spokesman, Councillor Diane Neil Mills said: "It is extremely short sighted for Labour to try and restrict community engagement at a time when the Government is promoting greater resident participation in local decision making.

"As an Abbey ward councillor, I attend meetings of the Wimbledon Community Forum which provide an important opportunity for local residents to voice their views on major issues of concern.

"I am therefore very disappointed that Labour is seeking to reduce the role of these meetings, particularly given the new opportunity provided by the Government's Localism Bill for residents to develop planning frameworks for local neighbourhoods and participate in local investment decisions."

And Wimbledon's Conservative MP Stephen Hammond added: "The Localism Bill, currently passing through Parliament, frees local councils from much central government diktat, giving them a General Power of Competence and much greater local control of the planning process. This localist agenda has been almost universally welcomed.

"It is disappointing that Merton Council is now doing exactly the opposite. I believe it is wrong to restrict community engagement. I know that many local residents value the opportunity to voice their views."

But Councillor Mark Allison, Cabinet Member for Finance, said: "The current community forums format doesn’t really work. They are very poorly attended, and are far too expensive. They cost Council Taxpayers at least £80 for every attendee, and in these difficult financial times I cannot justify such wasteful spending on meetings that are more popular among politicians than their constituents.

"We need to look at better and cheaper ways of engaging with and consulting residents, for instance by working with existing residents groups, making Councillors work harder, or using modern technology."

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February 3, 2011