Merton Is Set To Agree A Council Tax Freeze

Likely freeze will be fourth in a row

Merton is set to agree a council tax freeze for the fourth year in a row.

At a meeting last week the Labour Cabinet which runs Merton Council agreed to freeze council tax at the same rate as last year. This comes on top of a similar freeze over the last three years.

The Cabinet agreement still needs to be ratified at full Council on March 5, but all 28 Labour Councillors have pledged to vote for it.

The Conservative opposition have said they will instead be proposing an amendment to cut next year's council tax by 2.5%.

The Liberal Democrat group will also be putting forward an amendment - their "budget for well-being". It will include using a small amount from reserves to develop a one-off fund to develop new ideas on well-being - looking at preventative action and new ways of supporting people.

Council leader Stephen Alambritis, said: "We know times are hard for many of our residents and we hope this will go some way to helping people keep to their budget. We will also be able to protect priority services like parks, libraries and the weekly refuse collection that would be lost if there were any further cuts."

Opposition leader Oonagh Moulton said: "Labour can celebrate freezing the tax, but it has been done at a high level and it's been frozen because of a Government grant. We believe a council tax cut can be achieved."

She said not only did the Conservatives propose a 2.5% cut for the forthcoming budget, but they pledge a 10% cut in total during the next four years.

The Conservatives claim they have worked out that Merton Council has been over-budgeting by around £12.5m each year in the past four years, and that spare cash is now in reserves.

Lib Dem lead councillor Iain Dysart said: "We want to take £2 million to establish the "Merton Wellbeing Innovation Fund". Voluntary and community organisations would be able to bid for up to £20,000 grants to pilot new approaches to help people to improve their health and well-being and reduce isolation through promoting independence.  

"We are also challenging the Council to support people in a number of other ways. Firstly, we want them to look again at the withdrawal of discretionary freedom passes from some people with mental health conditions.

"I am ashamed that Merton Council did this in 2011. There is some evidence that isolation and loneliness is as costly to the NHS as smoking and obesity. Sadly, last year our pleas fell on deaf ears: our amendment to restore the passes was rejected by Labour and Residents’ Association councillors. Hopefully this year there will be a change of heart. We're also opposing the proposed cuts in the funding to Early Years services.”

Labour Councillor Mark Allison, Deputy Leader and Cabinet member for finance, said: "We started in office with a budget gap of £70m. Each year we have been able to reduce that down to zero.

"There is no way the Conservatives can cut council tax without cutting services. You need to keep the reserves for a rainy day, and with the level of on-going cuts that we are experiencing."

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March 4, 2014