Tweaks Planned For Council Cutbacks

Residents meet on eve of budget meeting

Planned cuts to a handful of services threatened by Merton Council's £26 million budget gap are set to be amended, a residents' association meeting was told tonight (Tuesday March 1).

The borough council meets tomorrow (Wednesday March 2) to finalise its controversial budget, which sees it having to save £10.219m in 2011-12 and £6.221m the following year.

Potential savings which have met with opposition have included revised library opening hours, reduction in the grant to Deen City Farm, removal of the discretionary Freedom Pass for the mentally ill, the closure of the Weir Road recycling centre, stopping locking parks at night and reducing the frequency of community forums.

Councillor Peter Southgate (left), from the Merton Park Ward Independent Residents party, discussed the budget plans at a Merton Park Ward Residents' Association Meeting. He is chairman of Merton's Overview and Scrutiny Commission, which has carried out a review of the proposals.

He told the meeting that, after a thorough review of the 642-page budget proposals, the scrutiny panel referred the following to the council's Cabinet:

The removal of 20 minutes free parking in some pay and display machines (saving £60,000).
Stopping locking parks at night (saving £57,000).
Street cleaning efficiencies (saving £285,000).
The closure of the Weir Road recycling centre (saving £175,000).
Revised library opening hours (saving £81,000).
Limiting the discretionary Freedom Pass for the mentally ill (saving £100,000).
Withdrawing legal support from the council's Licensing sub-committee.
Reducing the frequency of community forums (saving £45,000).
Changing delivery of care at the Brightwell Respite Centre in Morden (saving £100,000).

Councillor Southgate told the meeting that, following the scrutiny, the final budget plans could include these amendments:

Plans to remove 20 minutes free parking on some pay and display machines could be amended to allow 10 minutes of free parking.
Plans to cut Deen City Farm's grant by £15,000 for three years in a row could instead be reviewed after one year.
The impact of not locking the borough's parks to be monitored.
The discretionary Freedom Pass for the mentally ill to be partially restored.
The legal support for the Licensing sub-committee to be restored.
Changes in the delivery of care for the Brightwell Centre to be partially restored.

Councillor Southgate also told the meeting that council tax charges will be frozen to ensure the borough receives a rebate being offered by the Government. This is worth £2m to Merton, he said.

But he warned that the council debt is set to rise, principally to fund the borough's required new primary school places. He said: "By 2014-15, 32% of the council tax will go towards servicing the debt".

The final decision on the budget plans will be made at the full council, which meets in the council chamber at the Civic Centre in Morden at 7.15pm on Wednesday (March 2).

March 2, 2011