Three quarters of Merton residents have said they would support a rise in council tax in order to protect adult social care from further cuts.

The results from Merton Council’s controversial council tax consultation have been announced, with 77 per cent of respondents voting to raise council tax.

Of the 2,203 responses received by the council to their official consultation, 48 per cent said they would support raising council tax by 3.99 per cent, with 81 per cent saying that adult social care services should be the highest priority.

Wimbledon Times:

Protesters against the cuts to adult social care

Sep 7: Council criticised ahead of public consultation into raising council tax to fund adult social care

Last year, local authorities were given the power to raise council tax by up to 1.99 per cent a year to help fund council services. On top of this, local authorities were also told they could raise council tax by a further 2 per cent specifically to fund adult social care. In Merton, a two per cent council tax rise would net about £1.5million for adult social care.

However, Merton Council refused these options, and held fast to its election promise of keeping council tax frozen. Instead, the adult social care budget was cut by £5 million in this year, causing infighting and resignations within the ruling Labour party.

In September, a consultation into whether council tax should remain frozen was launched and saw the Labour group split down the middle and campaign against itself, with Wimbledon Labour urging residents to vote to raise the tax.

However, Mitcham and Morden Labour backed a second consultation sent out by Leader of the Council, Councillor Stephen Alambritis, which was accompanied by a letter describing it as a ‘fantasy’ that raising council tax could eliminate the £35 million of cuts local authorities have to make by 2020.

Nov 2: Formal complaints lodged against leader of Merton Council Stephen Alambritis as 'misleading' adult social care consultation draws to a close

The nature of this second consultation, which will be counted separately from the official Merton Council consultation, led to formal complaints being lodged against Cllr Alambritis. The results of it have not yet been revealed.

Councillor Jeff Hanna, who abstained in the budget setting meeting in March which implemented the cuts and has been a vocal supporter of holding a consultation since, said: “Labour party policy is still officially for no changing of the council tax freeze.

“But it’s pretty clear that if only 22 per cent support the freeze, then that freeze has been rejected overwhelmingly by residents.

“It’s also pretty clear from the results that the level of increase residents most support is the 3.99 per cent. Residents have said their highest priority is adult social care. It may just be that if the council had included the adult social care precept in March, residents would have understood that.

“It’s now for [Cllr] Stephen Alambritis to take the lead and suggest how best we can meet residents’ aspirations on quality for adults in need of care.”

Cllr Alambritis said the results of the consultation would have to be discussed by cabinet and the full council before any decision about the council tax freeze could be made.

He added: “I said we would consult, we are consulting and now we need to look at the results.

“We are a business-like local authority. We made a commitment and we didn’t want to break it without going to residents first. These are very difficult times for everyone, and adult social care in particular.”

The Merton Centre for Independent Living (Merton CIL) have celebrated the results, saying that it shows ‘overwhelming support’ for the disabled and elderly in the borough.

Chief executive of Merton CIL, Lyla Adwan-Kamara, said: “We welcome this outcome. At times it can feel very lonely when talking to the local authority about the crisis facing local disabled people.

“However, this consultation shows that our local communities listen to and understand our concerns.

“We hope that Merton Council will now listen to the voice of the people and feel empowered to prioritise spending on essential services for disabled people and older people in Merton.”

Consultation results break down

Total responses: 2,203 

Council tax levels:

  • Freeze – 22 per cent
  • 1.99% increase – 12 per cent
  • 2% increase – 17 per cent
  • 3.99% increase – 48 per cent

Highest priority services:

  • Care for adults - 81 per cent
  • Children’s care – 65 per cent
  • Rubbish and litter – 50 per cent

Lowest priority services:

  • Activities for young people – 49 per cent
  • Leisure – 39 per cent
  • Roads and pavements – 39 per cent

Agreement with the 2011 July principles to protect services for vulnerable groups and keep council tax low:

  • Strongly agree - 24 per cent
  • Agree 55 - per cent
  • Disagree - 9 per cent
  • Strongly disagree - 4 per cent
  • Don't know - 8 per cent

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