Health chiefs have been accused of holding Merton Council ‘to ransom’ after threatening to withdraw funding unless it raises council tax to fund adult social care.

The NHS Merton Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) chairman has also condemned the council leader’s own consultation into raising council tax as “misleading” and “so leading as to be meaningless”.

November 6: Leader of Merton Council Stephen Alambritis may face two formal investigations after 'serious' complaints about council tax consultation

Merton Council resisted calls to raise council tax by 1.99 per cent in order to help fund adult social care during their budget setting meeting in March this year, but has come under increased pressure after an official consultation showed 77 per cent of residents backed increasing council tax.

Of these, 48 per cent said they would like to see  tax raised by the maximum 3.99 per cent in order to fund essential services.

And it has now been revealed that Merton CCG has warned the council they will withdraw the majority of funding supplied from the Better Care Fund (BCF) unless it agrees to use the council tax precept.

Wimbledon Times:

Under pressure: Merton Council

November 22: Merton residents vote to raise council tax to protect adult social care services

In an email dated October 11, the clinical chairman of Merton CCG, Dr Andrew Murray, warned the council, that rather than the additional £2 million given to adult social care by the fund this year, the CCG is minded to only contribute the mandatory amount of £3,428,000 next year unless the precept was raised.

A further email, sent on November 3, strongly criticised a letter and questionnaire sent  by the Labour group on behalf of the council leader, Councillor Stephen Alambritis, to residents in St Helier.

The letter described the idea that raising council tax could help prevent cuts as a “fantasy” and said the council was “strongly minded not to increase your council tax for the next two years”. It made no mention of adult social care.

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

Dr Murray described himself as “deeply disappointed” by the letter and questionnaire, and said: “[It] seems to be a parallel survey to the official consultation survey and is so leading as to be meaningless if the intention is genuinely to engage with an informed population on this critical issue.

“Without some prior knowledge of the underlying issues, it would be very hard to imagine anyone responding to this questionnaire in any way other than to support the leader’s recommendation to not increase council tax.

“In our meetings when we discussed the consultation, we had been led to believe that there would be an open and honest attempt to determine the views of the population on whether to raise the social care precept. This is only possible if the people of Merton are fairly presented with the facts and their views are tested with a well-designed and impartial survey.

“The letter sent out to St Helier residents obviously falls far short of what we had been led to expect.”

The Labour party questionnaire showed 73 per cent of respondents were against a rise in council tax. These responses are not being included in the official consultation results.

At a cabinet meeting last night, December 12, the member for finance, Councillor Mark Allison, strongly criticised the Merton CCG’s stance.

He said: “The local NHS has told us that if we don’t take the precept, it will reduce their funding to us.

“Most people would think that it’s rather odd, that when someone needs money because there is less in these services, it will take it away.

“It feels as if the local NHS is holding councils to ransom in this respect. More than just expressing a view, it is threatening repercussions if councils don’t follow its line.”

Cllr Alambritis will face a standards and general purposes committee tonight, December 13, to decide whether he should be subject to a formal council investigation for running a separate consultation, over concerns about data collection, using a free-post address for non-council business and the confusion caused to residents who thought they were answering the official consultation.

Merton CCG have been approached for comment

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