Borough budget levels are set
The Merton council budget, which freezes the council tax for the third year running, was set at a stormy meeting on Wednesday (March 6).
Councillors have agreed £11m worth of savings in the next three years, including cuts to services and suppliers.
The Labour-run authority did abandon plans to stop funding the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme before the Lib-Dems were about to table an amendment.
The council points out that it is maintaining its £1million grant for the voluntary sector. An extra £87,000 will go to local charities from 2014. Merton's adult social care budget will also receive an extra £1m each year for the next three years.
And a new council tax support scheme for 2013/14 means the council will not be passing on the government reduction in council tax benefit to the thousands of Merton households who most need financial help.
The council's u-turn on Duke of Edinburgh funding came after concerns that the scheme was disproportionately funding students at select schools. The council will now refocus its spending to encourage greater take up from a wider background.
Merton Council cabinet member for finance Councillor Mark Allison said: "These are very challenging times but our top priority must be the people in Merton who need our help most. That’s why we’re keeping the cost of living down by freezing council tax for a record third year. We’re the only council in South London to do this and make sure families on low incomes continue to get their council tax rebates.
"In line with our principles, we are also protecting services to the people who need it most. We are putting £1m a year more into adult social care, haven’t closed any children’s centres, and are finding more money for local charities."
Lib Dem lead councillor Iain Dysart said: "We understand that at the last minute the Council reversed its decision to withdraw funding for the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme - and we're really pleased. Merton has played a leading role in encouraging and supporting the take-up of this highly valued scheme, which helps young people develop the skills and attitudes they need to become more rounded and confident adults. If the Council hadn't performed this u-turn, we had lodged an amendment to challenge the decision."
Conservative group leader Debbie Shears said: "If Labour truly cared about Merton's hard pressed residents they would have looked seriously at a Council Tax cut. The Labour party in Merton is completely devoid of any plan for managing the Council’s resources other than persisting in building up their war chest of reserves to bribe residents at the next election."
The Conservative group has pointed out that Merton council's reserves are currently running at around £90 million.
March 6, 2013