Last night’s budget meeting was the scene of impassioned speeches, heckling and even a resignation as Merton councillors debated an amendment to the cuts to adult social care.

The amendment, which failed by 33 votes to 25, called on the council to raise a 1.7 per cent precept to create an extra £1.35 million a year for adult social care.

This is what was said:

Council Leader, Stephen Alambritis

Wimbledon Times:

Cllr Alambritis insisted that Labour would remain firm on its promise to freeze council tax for all residents for the sixth year in a row.

He also said they would remain true to their “July Principles” to protect adult social care and children’s services, using the new £1.3 million Savings Mitigation Fund to protect vulnerable people from cuts and giving an additional £164,000 to the South Thames Crossroads service for carers.

He complained of a “national crisis in adult social care” and called the Chancellor’s option to raise council tax to fund it “grossly unfair” and “cruelly regressive”.

Cllr Alambritis reminded the chamber of the huge funding cuts to local authorities made by central Government, and of the new leisure centre soon to be built in Morden along with two new libraries and plans to create 4,000 new primary school places by 2018.

He said: “This year’s budget is about protecting vulnerable residents while keeping the promise made to all our residents that we would freeze their council tax.

“Some people think we should try and weasel our way out of it but that is not the new politics we practice here. We made a promise and we are sticking to it.

“We are not going to let George Osborne force us to break our promise because he refuses to fund adult social care properly.

“If residents tell us they want to pay more council tax, I am happy to go along with that. For me, it is what the residents want that counts.

“I will be fully consulting residents on next year’s budget, and if they tell me they want to pay more, in light of demographic changes, then I will follow their lead.

“I was elected to serve local residents and that is what I will do.”


Leader of Merton Conservatives, Oonagh Moulton

Wimbledon Times:

Cllr Moulton accused Merton Labour of blaming the Government for their own mistakes.

She talked at length about those who would be affected by adult social cuts, including the loss of the meals on wheels service, lack of respite for carers and cuts to staff in day centres, and warned that disabled residents in Merton were becoming more dissatisfied with the council.

Cllr Moulton called the July Principles “meaningless if they don’t translate into protecting services for the most vulnerable” and argued that the majority of councils around the country are taking the precept for adult social care.

She said: “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.

“Merton residents deserve better, and here this evening all councillors will get to make their own choice.

“I hope that tonight people will put aside any differing views on each other’s motivation and instead come together to deliver a better outcome for all those older and disabled residents we represent.

“The most vulnerable in our community shouldn’t have to suffer as a result of financial mismanagement and poor choices. We on this side know it, and I suspect many Labour colleagues do too.”


Leader of Merton Park Independents, Peter Southgate

Wimbledon Times:

Cllr Southgate has been one of the most vocal supporters of the 1.7 per cent precept, and chose to quote a Bible passage in last night’s meeting that he said demonstrated how railing against the cuts made by central Government will not help the vulnerable and needy.

He said: “It would be a tragedy if this opportunity was lost.

“If we listen to our consciences, it’s telling us we are doing this because it is the right thing to do.

“We don’t need any other justification.”


Councillor Mary-Jane Jeanes (Liberal Democrats)

Wimbledon Times:

Cllr Jeanes warned that the Savings Mitigation Fund would not be sufficient to help vulnerable people deal with the impact of cuts, although accepted that Labour had a difficult choice to make because of central Government cuts.

She said: “We can’t afford not to use what little we are offered – a precept for adult social care.

“This decision has important consequences for the quality of life for many of our residents.”


Deputy Leader and cabinet member for finance, Mark Allison

Wimbledon Times:

Cllr Allison condemned the Conservative party for looking after the interests of the “few, not the many”, and reminded the chamber again of the leisure centre, libraries and school places outlined in the budget.

He said: “Council tax hits the poor the most, and we want to keep it low.

“We want fairness for all, not just the rich.”


Cabinet member for adult social care and health, Caroline Cooper-Marbiah

Wimbledon Times:

Cllr Cooper-Marbiah has been a controversial figure in previous debates about adult social care since it emerged that she seconded Cllr Alambritis’ motion to keep council tax frozen at a Labour meeting on January 11.

February 3: Merton council leader Stephen Alambritis refuses to bend as rebel Labour party urges him to raise tax and 'save adult social care'

She said: “The precept is just a sticking plaster. Raising the council tax by two per cent or 1.7 per cent will raise only a fraction of what national care providers tell us we need. It will not solve the problem.

“After we have raised council tax and the problem is still not solved, what will we do then?”


Chief Whip, Tobin Byers

Wimbledon Times:

It has been alleged that Labour councillors were threatened with disciplinary action by Cllr Byers if they did not support last night’s budget.

March 2: Social conscience or party loyalty? Merton Labour facing tough decision in tonight's budget meeting

Cllr Byers said: “Freezing council tax is a decision we have taken because we don’t believe it is right to ask the public to fund services that the Government itself is refusing to fund.

“This budget process has not been an easy one and it’s not likely to get any easier in the years ahead.”


(Former) Councillor Peter Walker (Labour)

Wimbledon Times:

Peter Walker was the only Labour councillor to vote in favour of the amendment and against the instructions of his party. He resigned immediately after the vote.

From today: Peter Walker resigns from Merton Council as cuts to adult social care are passed in the budget

He said: “We have stated that the council will stick to its four “July Principles” when setting the budget.

“The very first principle was a promise, and I quote, “to protect statutory services to vulnerable groups”.

“Tonight I urge my colleagues to keep to that promise and defend the 3,000 residents and their carers in Merton who are desperately in need of our help, if they are to live their lives in dignity.”


Cabinet member for community and culture, Nick Draper

Wimbledon Times:

Cllr Draper spoke about caring for his disabled son Gregory. He insisted that vulnerable people and their families are not victims, and do not want pity from anyone, and said he trusts that Merton Labour will do the best for his son and people like him.

He said: “We don’t want pity. We don’t want bleeding hearts. We certainly don’t want him portrayed as a victim by anyone.

“We want to be able to trust the council to look after him. And I do.

“His needs will be met. I’m not a victim, and neither is Gregory.”


Councillor Jeff Hanna (Labour)

Wimbledon Times:

A leaked email in February revealed that Cllr Hanna had accused Merton Labour of “silencing” and “misleading” its members by not being open about the possibility of a 1.7 per cent precept.

February 22: Merton Labour accused of intentionally silencing and misinforming councillors in leaked email dispute over adult social care cuts

In the email he spoke strongly in favour of the precept, but at last night’s meeting Cllr Hanna said he reserved the right to abstain from voting as a “matter of conscience.”

He acknowledged the money available in the Savings Mitigation Fund, but said it would not do what is needed.

He said: “The precept will provide yet further funding now, and I am on record as supporting it.

“I am not in the business of chasing rainbows that are disappearing, but also I cannot in all conscience help to vote it down.”


Councillor David Williams (Conservative)

Wimbledon Times:

Cllr Williams highlighted the rarity of all the opposition parties joining together to submit an amendment to council, and acknowledged the difficulty for Labour councillors voting against their party whip.

He said: “Whose political reputation should you save – yours or your leadership’s?

“If you fail to save lives it will haunt you.”


Councillor Ross Garrod (Labour)

Wimbledon Times:

Cllr Garrod said no Labour councillor had come into politics to do this, but said they had been forced by the cuts to local authorities made by central Government.

He said: “I for one will not take criticism from the party opposite, the party involved with destroying local government, destroying the NHS and forcing hard working families to pay for their party’s mistakes.

“It’s not fair and it’s not right.”


Councillor Hamish Badenoch (Conservative)

Wimbledon Times:

Cllr Badenoch told the chamber that all of their speeches counted for nothing to the residents of Merton, and that what mattered was the decision they made.

He urged councillors not to just vote along party lines, and warned them that the excuse of doing so would not be enough “to defend yourself from doing the indefensible.”

He said: “Do not let the arguments of the political ether distract you from making the right choices for the people of Merton.”


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