Merton's Controversial Budget Is Voted Through

Councillor Peter Walker resigns in protest

Merton Council's controversial budget was voted through last night in a stormy meeting which saw the resignation of Labour Councillor Peter Walker.

He resigned from the Labour-run council after an amendment to the council's proposed budget to fund £1.355m to help fund Adult Social Care services in the borough was voted down by 33 votes against to 25 in favour.

Instead the council agreed on a controversial £5.06m cuts package and will not use a 2% precept offered by the Government which would have allowed the council to raise £1.7m to spend on adult social care.

There were 36 votes in favour of the budget, 20 against and three abstentions.

Now more than £1.8m will be cut from support packages to adults suffering from a range of issues, including the elderly. The Meal on Wheels service, now used by 175 people, faces cuts of £153,000. The Imagine Independence charity, which supports adults with mental health issues, faces £84,000 worth of cuts.

But the council will be using the Government's New Homes Bonus to set up a £1.3m fund to continue to deliver some of the services that might otherwise have been cut.

The Conservative, Merton Park Independent and Lib-Dem Councillors had argued for a 1.7% precept to raise a further £1.355m to fund support for some of the borough's most vulnerable adults.

They stated this would not result in any increase in council tax as it would be directly offset by the reduction in the Mayor of London's component of the council tax. The Mayor's precept was being collected towards the funding of the 2012 Olympics, but it will stop in the next financial year.

The Conservative group's 'Caring for Merton' petition to campaign for the 1.7% precept to be included in Merton's budget had attracted more than 270 signatures before the controversial meeting.

Conservative group leader, Councillor Oonagh Moulton, told the meeting: "This administration has been given the power to fix their own financial mess but they are refusing to do so. Instead of ensuring adequate funding for the most vulnerable, they just  congratulate themselves for being ‘business-like’, when in reality Labour's financial incompetence is harming those residents in Merton who are most in need."

But Merton Council’s cabinet member for finance, Councillor Mark Allison, said after the meeting: "We all know these are very challenging times for local government as central government continues to cut our funding year after year. We have proved ourselves to be a resilient council because of our business-like approach.

"We have been able to freeze council tax and, at the same time, generate a fund that will be used to help the more vulnerable in our borough. And we can still look forward to a new leisure centre, new school buildings and new libraries as we work to ensure best value for money for our taxpayers.

"Raising council tax would have been the easy option. Times are hard for many Merton families, especially as wages aren’t keeping pace with house prices and rents. Many families are having to make their own decisions on where they spend their money. We have to do the same and as a council we also have a duty to ensure the budget is balanced in as fair a way as possible. So by freezing council tax, we are keeping money in people’s pockets which they can spend on their families – one less thing they have to worry about."

Peter Walker, who lives in Caroline Road, Wimbledon, later wrote to council leader Stephen Alambritis to explain his reasons for resigning. He stated: "I did this for two reasons; firstly because by banning me from all council committees since 2014 I have been unable to represent those who voted for me.

"Secondly because I have no intention of becoming lobby fodder for your harsh and reckless policies, which threaten the needy in our Borough. I was extremely disappointed that you forced through a budget which results in a cut of £5m to our adult social care service.

"To refuse to act to protect some of the most vulnerable members of our community, when you could do so by raising our precept, as allowed by Government, is frankly unforgiveable. 

"As a result elderly carers will be left isolated and with little or no support, bedridden residents will go to bed in soiled clothing as support workers will not be available to call round to help them change. The mentally frail will in all likelihood, have to go into institutional homes as they will no longer be able to cope in the community.

"Other authorities across London of all political colours, have acted responsibly to protect Adult Social Care budgets by raising their precepts. Your action is the result of your promise to freeze Council Tax for four years. A policy which will result in ever harsher cuts on the vulnerable if sustained until 2019. This action is a betrayal of Labour values that I was elected to defend."

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March 3, 2016

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Peter Walker and the resignation letter he handed in at the meeting