Council's Cabinet rejects bid to increase council tax by 2%
Adult social services in Merton are set to be cut, including scrapping the funding for the Meals on Wheels service, in order to keep the council tax frozen.
The borough council's Cabinet agreed on Monday (February 15) to a £5.06 million cuts package. The plans will now to go a full council on March 2.
There were protestors outside the meeting and the week before, a petition organised by Age Concern in Merton was presented at Merton Civic Centre.
The Cabinet agreed to continue to freeze council tax and not use a 2% precept offered by the Government which would allow the council to raise £1.7m to spend on adult social care.
It also rejected a plan from the council's Overview and Scrutiny Commission, chaired by Merton Park Independent Resident Councillor Peter Southgate, to increase council tax by 2% to protect adult social care.
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. More than £1.8m will be cut from support packages to adults suffering from a range of issues, including the elderly.
But it 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.
Councillor Mark Allison, Cabinet Member for Finance, said: "Because of our businesslike approach, we've been able to establish a brand new million pound fund which means we can keep our promise to freeze council tax, while at the same time ensuring the effects on vulnerable people of the very worst of the government’s cuts to local services are mitigated."
But Labour Councillor, and former Cabinet member, Peter Walker said he and his Labour colleagues now faced a "difficult decision" about whether they will support the council budget at the March meeting.
He said of the decision not to increase council tax by 2%: "This means an extra £1.7m which could be used to help this essential service, will not be raised not for this year but also for the next three years. The result will mean not just great hardship for those in need in Merton but a serious threat to the whole financial viability of Merton’s finances as each year our Council tax yield will fall behind those of our neighbours by many millions of pounds.
"Despite the pleadings from local carers, their charities, and local Labour Party members, the leaders of Merton Council will submit a budget to the Council Meeting on March 2nd which includes these devastating cuts. As important by wilfully refusing to increase council tax as other local authorities are doing across London and the south east, I believe this decision to freeze tax for the coming years, imperils the whole financial future of the Council.
"I and other Labour Councillors will now have a very difficult decision to make as to whether we support the Council budget on March 2 as proposed or vote against it. As someone who has always been on the moderate wing of the Labour party I find it amazing that I am now cast in the role of a rebel, with the Council pursuing policies which betray the values to protect the poor and sick on which the Labour party was founded."
Councillor Oonagh Moulton, Leader of Merton Conservative Group, said: "Merton Labour are providing no new money for Adult Social Care. They are simply rearranging the deckchairs at the 11th hour to try and avoid hitting the iceberg of their own making.
"Using the Government’s New Homes Bonus is a short term solution which just leaves holes elsewhere in the budget. As the money is only for one year, it provides no sustainable funding for the vital services on which vulnerable residents rely.
"Merton Labour have already failed to deliver over £5million of their own previously agreed savings. Once again, residents are suffering due to Labour’s internal divisions and financial mismanagement."
But Labour Councillor Caroline Cooper Marbiah, Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care, said: "The Government have refused to fund social care to the tune of £4 billion across the country. We need long term sustainable funding not short term sticking plasters that won’t solve the problem and penalise local council tax payers, many of whom are pensioners.
"I’m delighted that in Merton we’ve delivered some additional funding that will help vulnerable people but the Government need to act now. I will be calling a summit of the local NHS, other local authorities and the voluntary sector to put pressure on the Government to stop wasting money keeping older people in expensive hospital beds when councils could look after tens of thousands more people in their own homes if we had adequate funding."
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February 20, 2016