Merton Council Tax Will Be Frozen Again

But controversial budget identifies £32m in savings

Merton Council has agreed to freeze council tax for the fifth year running, but has agreed to controversial plans to save £32m during the next four years.

There were protests against the proposed new budget, which include cuts to adult social care and adult education, outside the full council meeting on Wednesday (March 4).

The plans went through by 39 votes to 21, with a Conservative amendment which included alternative savings to make the £200,000 cuts to adult social care unecessary, being voted down.

Merton's Tory opposition leader Oonagh Moulton told the meeting: "I hope that every Labour backbencher is ready to justify their support for this budget to disabled residents and their families in every part of our borough. For this is a heartless budget built on the backs of vulnerable residents.

"Merton is spending more money every year –an extra £62 million this year and another £34 million more next year. What is missing is the imagination and political will to do things differently in response to the new normal of lower government funding (regardless of who is in power in Westminster). Conservatives want want a new vision for funding and delivery of our services."

Lib-Dem Councillor Mary Jane Jeans said: "Many aspects of the Council's interaction with our residents can be summed up as "too little – too late". The public are only consulted late on in our decision making processes; or, a few are chosen randomly to take part in our residents' surveys.

"As a council, we need a far better understanding of what our residents think the borough's spending priorities should be in the future. Questions about financial priorities could be included in the annual survey process. This would allow us to plan our medium and long term financial strategies better, so that our limited resources are used as wisely as possible."

The council points out that for the third year running, it will absorb the Government's 2012 reduction in council tax support, ensuring residents on low incomes will continue to receive the same amount of council tax support as in previous years as long as their circumstances have not changed.

Merton lists the following of examples of forthcoming major investment:

  • £1 million extra a year for children’s services which will help with safeguarding children in the borough including Looked After Children, ensuring they are supported in their family-based and wider placements.
  • £73m up to 2018/19 on expanding school provision and creating 5,000 extra places across primary and secondary level. £41m is allocated to be spent on expanding secondary schools.
  • £11m to build a new leisure centre for Morden, replacing the current expensive to maintain building with a new affordable pool that will cost less for the council to look after and to operate.
  • Working with a developer to build a new West Barnes Library which will come at no cost to the taxpayer and will be cheaper for the council to run and maintain than the current ageing building.
  • An estimated £14 million over the coming years to revitalise the borough’s town centres, including £5 million for Mitcham, £1.5 million for Colliers Wood, £3.3 million for the proposed Morden town centre regeneration scheme and £3.2m for Wimbledon Town Centre. By investing in town centres the council also hopes to create job opportunities for residents and for young people in particular.

Cabinet member for finance Councillor Mark Allison said: "With Government cuts to councils of 40% and a savings target of £32m a year by 2019, we’ve had to make some tough choices. However, because we have run the council’s finances in a business-like way we are able to offer real benefits for local residents, including a record fifth consecutive Council Tax freeze, thousands more school places, a new library, and a new swimming pool."

March 6, 2015