Merton Budget 2013: Council tax frozen as cuts of £11m are approved
Council tax will be frozen for a third year but cuts of £11m will be made to front line services after this year’s budget was approved.
Councillors met last night to vote on the draft business plan for 2013/17 which was described as "caring and sharing" by the leader of the council, Councillor Stephen Alambritis, but "lazy" with a "can’t do attitude" by opposition Conservative councillors.
Its approval will see council tax frozen for a third year running in Merton - the only south London Council not to impose an increase to residents this year.
The council will also be maintaining its £1m grant for the voluntary sector, investing an extra £87,000 in local charities in 2014 and has secured an additional £1m in funding for Merton’s adult social care budget for the next three years.
However the budget will also see cuts of £11m over three years to services which opposition councillors have criticised for being "unnecessary" given the council recorded £4m under spend on this year’s budget and has growing reserves which Conservative councillors’ claim have reached £90m.
Last night Conservative councillors called for an amendment to the budget to give residents a five per cent cut in council tax.
The proposal, which was voted down, was described as a "charter to bankrupt Merton." by Labour Councillor Martin Whelton.
In her budget speech made last night, Councillor Debbie Shears, leader of the opposition, said: "Today we are faced with a lazy budget that is totally lacking in imagination.
"Labour has fallen back on its previous formula of stashing away millions in reserves whilst hiking charges for residents, cutting services to the most vulnerable and reducing funding to arts and community groups.
"Labour has also snubbed residents by failing to take the opportunity to use the council’s financial resources wisely.
"Next year they are proposing to spend £524million of taxpayers’ money in total - that’s a whopping £28million increase since 2011-12.
"And yet in a gross misjudgement they refuse to pass onto residents the five per cent cut in council tax that the Conservatives called for last year at the start of this budget process."
Cuts approved include a £4,000 reduction in funding for the Polka Theatre and a £20,000 cost cutting plan to make day centre staff responsible for collecting and taking users home.
Seven jobs will be lost in the children and youth services as part of a plan to integrate families, youth offending and education departments saving £420,000 over four years.
The cash office at the civic centre will close saving £30,000 and the borough’s street lighting budget will be cut by £50,000.
Liberal Democrat councillors last night branded a plan to cut the non-urgent road repairs budget by £50,000 "grossly irresponsible" and a "false economy" but the call for an ammendment was voted down.
Calls to reject certain cuts were heeded by Labour who agreed to scrap plans to withdraw funding for the Duke of Edinburgh Awards Scheme.
A reduction of contributions to a London Council Grant scheme was also withdrawn which would have seen funding to the voluntary sector reduced by £54,000.
A plan to introduce parking charges at five of the borough’s to generate £44,000 for the council, while not rejected, has been deferred until further work on the proposal is completed.
Councillor Mark Allison, cabinet member for finance said: "These are very challenging times but our top priority must be the people in Merton who need our help most.
"That’s why we’re keeping the cost of living down by freezing council tax for a record third year.
"We’re the only council in South London to do this and make sure families on low incomes continue to get their council tax rebates.
"In line with our principles, we are also protecting services to the people who need it most. We are putting £1m a year more into adult social care, haven’t closed any children’s centres, and are finding more money for local charities.
"We can do this because we are a well-run council and are good at keeping our costs low.
"We share services with neighbouring boroughs, get good deals from our suppliers and our residents are telling us that we’re efficient and well run."