Opposition proposals to cut council tax by five per cent next year were dismissed as a “joke” by the leader of the council, as the gap between Merton’s biggest political parties widened significantly this week.
Merton’s Conservative group has proposed cutting the tax on households by £55 a year for average properties from April 2013 at this month’s full council meeting on November 21.
Councillor Debbie Shears, the Conservative leader, argued the cuts could be made with a combination of efficiency savings and by spending the Labour-led council’s “war chest” of £20m in reserves, built up since coming into office in 2010.
She said: “Council tax is already double that of neighbouring Wandsworth yet while hard pressed householders are struggling our Labour run Council has built up more than £20m in the last two years alone.
“A five per cent council tax cut would make a real difference to Merton residents and we believe such a cut is more than possible without front-line services having to suffer.
“Instead of stashing away money in reserves, and by bringing in efficiency savings, Labour could save us £55 on a Band D property next year and thereafter.”
Coun Shears said the proposal was the first of a series of commitments her group would make in the coming months as they aimed to “set their stall out” for the next council elections, which are not until June 2014.
But the leader of the council, Stephen Alambritis, ruled out any cutting of council tax next year and reiterated he was "minded" to freeze council tax instead.
He said: “I’m sure it must be a joke. They increased the council every year of their administration but they reduced it in the last year, which was a cynical move to win an election.
“A five per cent cut in council tax would mean huge cuts to street cleaning and could mean the closure of Sure Start children’s centres and libraries. That is something we don’t want to see.”
“I am astounded at such tactics by the Conservatives. A five per cent cut would devastate the borough. I believe they’re drifting away in Merton and cut loose from the real world.”
Coun Alambritis he expected “bad news” on December 5 when chancellor George Osborne gives his autumn statement to Parliament, when councils will know more about their funding settlement from the Government – four times bigger than the amount collected from council tax.
Council tax for average (Band D) properties in Merton is more than double in neighbouring Wandsworth, which has one of the lowest rates in the country.
But a comparison of south-west London's seven boroughs shows Merton has the second lowest rate.
This year's council tax for Band D properties (2012/13):
Kingston upon Thames: £1,658.91
Richmond upon Thames: £1,594.11