Merton's Tory Opposition Attacks Council Cutback Plans

Labour says it's nearly bridged funding gap

Local Conservatives have attacked the cuts being planned by Merton borough council when they claim there is a monthly underspend of £1 million.

The council is proposing to save £44 million during the next three years with a controversial package of cutbacks.

But the Conservative opposition says many of the cuts are unecessary when the council has a surplus of £12 million.

Opposition leader, Councillor Debbie Shears (left), said: "They have been under-spending year on year and have built up a surplus of £12 million.

"Are they building a political war chest for the next election? Yet there are cuts being talked about that hit vulnerable groups.

"We will oppose any serious cuts to frontline services, from reducing library opening hours and closing youth clubs, to cutting street cleaning and leaving older people isolated or at risk. It doesn't have to be like this." 

Councillor Suzanne Grocott, the Conservatives' finance spokesman, said while the Goverment had reduced grant funding to the council for 2012-13 by £6 million, they will be giving back £4 million because of the planned council tax freeze.

Councillor Henry Nelless added: "This year we have come up with an underspend of £3.4 million - so what could we have saved from last year's cuts - the cuts to Dean City Farm, weekend street cleaning, free garden waste? They added up to a fraction of those savings, and 12 months later we can see those cuts did not need to be made."

But Councillor Stephen Alambritis, leader of the Labour-controlled council, responded: "Everyone knows these are difficult and austere times. For the Tories to say cuts aren't necessary shows they are not living in the real world.

"When we came into office we had to fill a funding gap left by the last Conservative administration and made worse by the Government's cuts of £70m over four years. As a result of this year's budget and our efforts to reduce spending throughout the year by concentrating on people's priorities, we will have nearly bridged that gap.

"We appreciate the £4m from the Government, but this is dwarfed by what they are taking away. We cannot afford to carry on the Tories' short-term approach to Budget-making – we need to protect services and keep them sustainable for years ahead.

"The truth is, as most people know, the only alternative to spending less now is either Council Tax increases or making even deeper cuts later. The Tories' policies mean higher Council Tax or deeper cuts to services, but we will not let that happen."

The budget will be set at a full council meeting at 7.15pm on Wednesday March 7.

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February 27, 2012