Merton Set To Increase Council Tax For First Time Since 2011

Extra funding will go towards adult social care

Merton is set to increase council tax by 3% - the first rise since 2011 - to help it fund adult social care.

It means the Labour-led council is breaking an election pledge it made in 2014 to keep council tax frozen.

Most English councils made use of powers offered by the Government to increase council tax last year by up to 2% to fund adult social care.

Merton controversially chose to freeze council tax at that stage - making it only one of a handful of councils in England to do so.

But now Merton's Labour group has said it will be implementing the Government's 'precept' increase of 3% to provide around a quarter of the £9m extra it says it needs to spend on adult social care.

At the end of last year the council ran a consultation on using the precept allowed by the Government to raise funds to spend on adult social care in 2017-19.

The consultation received what Merton agreed was a high response rate, with 2,203 people completing it. There were 1,435 online responses and 768 paper responses.

Overall, 77% of residents who responded called for an increase in Council Tax. The breakdown was as follows:

For no increase in council tax 22%

For a 1.99% increase 12%

For a 2.00% increase 17%

For a 3.99% increase 48%.

Merton's Labour group said in a statement today (January 10): "Given the Government’s crisis in adult social care, we are no longer able to resist the Government’s demand that councils increase council tax to pay for adult social care, particularly as their managers have threatened to cut funding for Merton's local health services by more than £2m if we do not do so.

"We will therefore be implementing the government’s council tax “precept” increase of 3%. This government tax increase will provide around a quarter of the £9m extra that we will be increasing our adult social care budget by."

The decision effectively protects £4.3m for local health and care services as the NHS Merton Clinical Commissioning Group had reportedly threatened to withdraw £2m worth of funding for adult social care if Merton didn't increase council tax.

Council leader Stephen Alambritis said: "The Conservatives’ track record on health and social care services is terrible. When they ran Merton council we were the lowest spender on social care in outer London, and their government has allowed a care crisis to develop, but with Labour running Merton our spending has returned to the average level, and we are now putting an extra £9m into the budget for adult social services.

"We know that many people find council tax a big expense, especially in the less well off parts of the borough, and we will continue to do all we can to protect the council taxpayer from the worst of the government’s cuts, while providing decent value-for-money services."

Councillor David Williams, Conservative Finance spokesman, said: "It’s remarkable that Merton Labour are blaming the local NHS for their own mismanagement of the council finances. In truth this is a crisis all of their own making.

"Labour are in a complete mess. Merton council is overspending by millions of pounds each year because the shambolic administration has consistently under budgeted on care services for older and disabled residents.

"In March 2016 Conservative councillors proposed a precept to protect services for the most vulnerable residents. Yet Labour refused to support this even though it wouldn’t have cost council taxpayers a penny more. A year later we – and  most other London councils - have been proven right. Because Merton Labour ignored all calls for a precept, they now face digging themselves out of an ever deepening budget hole."

Liberal Democrat councillor Mary-Jane Jeanes added: "This is a welcome u-turn by Labour councillors. We've consistently argued that this money is needed to mitigate damaging cuts to care services, like cuts to Meals on Wheels and support for carers. However, we still need to lobby Government for proper funding for both care services and the NHS."

Peter Walker, who resigned as a Labour Councillor last year in protest at Merton's refusal to increase council tax to protect services for Adult Social Care, said: "This u-turn by Stephen Alambritis is most welcome, as it will lessen the effects of council cuts to those most in need.  My only regret is that he did not do this last year, and thus avoid the very harsh cuts he made then to the services for the most vunerable.

"At the very least, Councillor Alambritis, should apologise to the electors of Merton for promising to freeze council tax for four years and then doing a u-turn after just two years. His promise of a freeze in council tax showed a serious lack of judgement."

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January 10, 2017