On Wednesday, Merton Council held a meeting to decide its budget for the coming year. There have been severe cuts to local government funding in recent years. However, local Lib Dem councillors examined the proposed budget, and came up with a number of ways to reduce cuts to vital services, innovate in Council funding, and build stronger and safer communities.
You can see Cllr Anthony Fairclough, leader of Merton Liberal Democrat councillors, give his budget response speech here on YouTube.
2019 Budget briefing:
1) Council reject proposal for extra police in Merton
A funding proposal to put two more police officers on Merton’s streets for the next 3 years has been rejected by Labour councillors.
Lib Dem Cllr Paul Kohler said:
“Unlike Theresa May, we know there’s a link between crime and police numbers and we therefore wanted to replace some of the police officers that we are losing in Merton owing to cuts from the Mayor and central Government. It was very disappointing that Labour and Merton Park Residents Association councillors would not support our proposal, preferring to stick to a dogmatic position that flies in the face of residents’ concerns”.
You can watch Paul’s speech about the amendment here on YouTube.
2) Merton Labour choose union officials over children’s care workers
Labour councillors voted to keep full time trade union officers - paid by Merton’s taxpayers - rather than two care workers who work with some of the most vulnerable children in the Borough.
Lib Dem deputy leader, Cllr Carl Quilliam said:
“The cuts the Conservative Government has imposed on Merton mean that difficult choices have to be made. We value the role of trade unions but don’t believe that they need 3 full time officials paid for from the Council’s funding. We wanted to cut that in half and use the savings to stop two care workers losing their jobs. It’s disappointing that Labour put the interests of their union paymasters ahead of vulnerable children - and striking that none of them even explained why they voted that way.”
Cllr Quilliam proposed two amendments: seeking to protect care workers, stop new charges for disabled people who need blue badges and a Welllbeing Innovation fund. This fund would promote social innovation by developing new approaches to help people improve their health and wellbeing; and reduce isolation through promoting independence.
You can watch Carl’s speech from the meeting here on YouTube.
3) Education fund rejected
Labour councillors lined up to block a new Education Innovation Fund, paid for by a voluntary Council tax donation like used by Westminster Council.
Lib Dem Cllr Hina Bokhari said “This is was a no-brainer. It would have potentially helped thousands of children in Merton, by looking at new ways to support educational groups like Merton Music Foundation develop new services in the borough”.
This was part of a series of innovative ways proposed by Merton Liberal Democrats at the Council budget meeting to look at longer-term solutions and learn from other councils: a Strategic Roads Fund like Stockport's to fix our roads now, and cut costs on patching potholes later; a landlord licensing scheme – like in Newham – to back local renters, and keeping local parks free for the Little League football charities, to support kids' health.
Unfortunately Labour councillors voted against each of our amendments, demonstrating again their aversion to working collaboratively with other parties on the council to get the best deal for Merton residents.
You can watch Hina’s speech here on YouTube.
The Council’s budget press release is here.
Merton Liberal Democrats realise that the cuts to local government funding are significant and it is clear as a result that difficult decisions need to be made. These cuts go beyond what can reasonably be expected to be delivered through efficiency savings and we join others in calling on the government to think again on the proposed cuts.
The proposed budget can be found on Merton Council's website.
Whilst we do not agree with a significant number of the proposed savings it is clear that the constraints of the budget don’t offer significant opportunities. Therefore in our budget amendment we have focussed on three things:
- Opportunities to mitigate or delay cuts to services where we believe it is both possible and necessary.
- Innovation in Council finances and opportunities to grow the Council’s revenue in new and sustainable ways
- Building stronger and safer communities by stepping in to support community policing
With this in mind, we have proposed four amendments to the Council budget (the full text of our amendments can be found on the Merton Council website):
1) Health and Care amendment
We believe that the charges for blue badges are both unnecessary and unfair. Many people need blue badges to get around, and those in need of them have already been targeted with cuts to their mobility support through the welfare budget. This can be mitigated through a small use of reserves this year and should be reviewed again next year to find a further saving or funding source.
We also believe that through cutting an oversupply of central council trade union support, we could restore two care workers at Bond Road Family Centre Family Support & Outreach Centre for the foreseeable future.
2) Wellbeing Innovation Fund amendment
We are proposing that the council introduce a new £1.1m Merton Wellbeing Innovation Fund. The fund would be used to promote social innovation by developing new approaches to help people improve their health and wellbeing; and reduce isolation through promoting independence.
3) Innovating in council finances and promoting longer-term decision making
We are calling on Merton Council to support a number of amendments relating to innovating in growing the Council’s revenue; and in promoting longer-term decision making.
For example, there are several roads in Merton that have not been resurfaced in years. We want a project to look at proactively borrowing against the revenue cost of road repairs, to spend now and save larger costs later – along Stockport Council’s model.
Further, the Council could look at an additional voluntary contribution scheme from high value properties, based on the models used by Westminster Council and Kensington & Chelsea LBCs. The money raised could be used to establish an Education Innovation Fund.
We would also ensure funding to allow Merton’s Little Leagues to use local parks for free for another year, introduce a Landlord Licensing system to improve the situation for renters, and restore a senior scrutiny officer to help improve decision-making on the Council.
4) Police amendment
We are also proposing that the council should step in to help maintain our community police presence for a further 3 years. This is required to mitigate the cuts planned by the Mayor as a result of his centralisation plans, and funding cuts from the government. In particular we are calling for Merton Council to pay for 2 Police Constables for 3 years (as part of the Met’s new PartnershipPlus scheme).
The Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) is activated by the Mayor and Greater London Authority in case of temperatures forecast below freezing anywhere in London.
When SWEP is "activated", the arrangements in Merton are:
- If you become aware of a potential rough sleeper, please make a referral, with as much detail as possible about the individual and their location to:
- SPEAR Outreach Team, during office hours on 020 8404 1481 or 07827 237694;
- Night Duty during out-of-hours on 020 8770 5000, who will, where appropriate, agree and arrange emergency accommodation.
- Rough sleepers can also be advised to attend the Merton Civic Centre, London Road, Morden SM4 5DX, during office hours until 4pm and ask to see a member of the Housing Options Team. Under the SWEP, the Council will source emergency accommodation for anyone verified by the SPEAR Outreach Team as a rough sleeper in the borough of Merton. We recognise however, that particularly outside of usual business hours, independent verification may not be possible and where this is the case, provision of the emergency accommodation will be at the discretion of the Emergency Duty Team officer.
- In the first instance, accommodation will be sought through the YMCA in Wimbledon (020 8542 9055) or the Winter Night Shelter, but if this is unavailable, then bed & breakfast accommodation will be arranged, although it may be difficult to arrange bed & breakfast at short notice. Rough sleepers placed out-of-hours should be advised to approach the Merton Housing Advice Service at the Civic Centre, London Road, Morden, SM4 5DX on the following business day, to discuss their options for alternative housing and to review their immediate accommodation needs in the light of the current weather conditions.
The Mayor of London has admitted that police response times have fallen dramatically across Merton following the merger of its police teams with those in neighbouring boroughs.
In figures supplied to Liberal Democrat Councillor Paul Kohler late last year, in the 4 months before the merger, response times across Merton for the most serious 999 calls averaged 9 minutes 30 seconds. In the four months after the merger this deteriorated by over 50% to an average of 15 minutes 15 seconds. Calls in this category require response within 15 minutes.
There was an even more dramatic decrease in response times for the second highest priority of 999 calls. In the four months before the merger, response times averaged 38 minutes 6 seconds. In the four months after the merger this more than tripled to an average of 1 hour 59 minutes. Calls in this category require a response within 1 hour.
Cllr Paul Kohler said:
"I am appalled by this dramatic fall in response times following the merger. The police officers who saved me arrived within 8 minutes, and I fear after seeing these figures I would be dead if the attack happened now."
"I am amazed that the Mayor is even considering closing Wimbledon police station after this news; let alone that he is planning to make his decision without even re-consulting despite the dramatic fall in response times that has occurred since the last consultation ended."
Brexit is a mess. That much is true whether you were one of the 72% in Wimbledon who, like me, voted to remain in the European Union, or whether you voted to leave.
Following Theresa May’s crushing defeat in the vote on her Brexit deal any hope of an orderly Brexit is rapidly disappearing.
The UK has been negotiating for more than two years, and the best deal the government could come up with has been (rightly) thumped in Parliament.
Without this bad deal the only Brexit that remains is the worst case scenario: a chaotic No Deal Brexit. A No Deal Brexit that means food and medicine shortages, higher prices in shops and flights grounded.
A quick look at what's happening in and around the borough over the festive period
Recycling and rubbish collection dates:
Christmas events in Merton:
Festive Carriage rides at Morden Hall Park, 8-23rd December
Cards for Good causes, 12-15th December
Merton Chamber Christmas lunch, 13th December
Wimbledon Guild Carol service, 13th December
Christmas dinner and dance, 15th December
Christmas markets on the piazza, 15-16th December
Beer and Carols at St Andrews, 21st December
Christmas markets on the piazza, 21-23rd December
Tinsel 10k run, Morden Hall Park, 23rd December
Don't be alone on Christmas day, 25th December
Merton Heritage Service, festive events:
- 10-31st December,`Tis the Season to be Jolly, the story behind popular Christmas customs
- 10-31st December, Frosts & Festivities, an exhibition about Merton in winter
- 10-31st December, The Twelve Days of Christmas, a Merton heritage exhibition inspired by the popular festive rhyme
- 10-18th December, Local History Christmas Sale
All events held at Merton Heritage Centre, 2nd floor - Morden Library
Free Christmas parking
Parking will be free in Council-managed car parks in Mitcham, Morden and Wimbledon on a number of weekends. See here for full information.
Local shops and other information
As you know, next week you and your fellow MPs will be faced with a historic decision that will determine the future not only of the people you represent today, but also of their children and grandchildren.
When we debated during the election campaign last year you pledged to stand against a hard Brexit. The withdrawal agreement being presented to Parliament next week is a blueprint for a damaging hard Brexit. It will leave us with a worse deal than we currently have in the EU, severing trade links and stripping us of our ability to influence many of the rules that govern our trade. Rather than taking back control, this Brexit deal would see us lose control. It satisfies neither those who voted leave nor those who voted remain.
Now you may feel that because Labour has once again gone missing on the most important issue of the day you can afford to back this deal without opposition. I am writing to you to underline that I and your constituents will hold you to account for your vote next week.
Having knocked on thousands of doors and spoken to thousands of your constituents, I know the people of Wimbledon will not easily forgive a vote for this botched deal. If there is to be an early general election, rest assured people locally will know that when it came to the crunch you chose your party and your career ahead of the future of this country and honouring your election pledges.
It is clear that the only way out of this mess is through a People’s Vote with an option to remain in the EU. Polling shows the people of Wimbledon back one; thanks to the Lib Dems Merton Council now backs one; so join us and back one too – even if that means leaving behind your newly minted ministerial salary.
It’s time for you to do the right thing for your constituents: vote down this botched Brexit deal and back a People’s Vote.
Cllr Carl Quilliam
Lib Dem parliamentary spokesperson for Wimbledon
Tonight Merton Council approved building a new school in South Wimbledon, despite serious air quality concerns.
Cllr Simon McGrath - a member of the Planning Applications Committee - ultimately voted against granting planning permission. Reflecting on his decision, he said:
“Air pollution is a silent killer, and it really needs to be treated as the public health emergency it is.
"After looking at all the evidence, I felt that the proposal should only go forward with significant, measurable improvements in pollution levels near the school site.
“Labour Council bosses are putting our children’s health at risk by pushing through new Harris Academy without doing anything to improve the air quality. The Council's own research shows that air pollution levels are far above the acceptable level, and the argument that pollution will simply have reduced by the time the school opens is an unacceptable risk.
“It is extraordinary that the Council did not look into the need to reduce pollution levels before they spent millions of pounds buying the site. Local children deserve better from Merton.
“Local Lib Dems have long pushed for improvements to air quality across Merton - and specifically near to our schools. It's time the Labour Council faced up to their poor record on air quality.”
Merton Liberal Democrats have previously highlighted research showing that a number of Merton schools are located in areas with dangerously high pollution levels. They are calling for a radical and ambitious plan to improve air quality as an urgent priority.
Scores of Merton residents were among the nearly one million people who marched on Parliament on Saturday 20 October to demand a "People’s Vote".
The People’s Vote campaign is calling for a referendum on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, with the option to remain in the EU on the ballot paper. This would allow people to be given a final say on the negotiations.
Nearly two-thirds of Merton residents voted to remain in the EU at the 2016 referendum, and hundreds more since have signed a petition coordinated by Merton Liberal Democrats calling on the two local MPs to back the campaign for a People’s Vote. In September, Merton councillors supported a Liberal Democrat proposal in support of a People’s Vote
. Conservative and residents association councillors abstained.
Unlike his Mitcham & Morden counterpart - Wimbledon's current MP, Conservative Stephen Hammond has not yet committed to supporting a People's Vote.
Speaking after the march, Lib Dem parliamentary campaigner for Wimbledon, Cllr Carl Quilliam said:
“The Government has made a total mess of these Brexit negotiations. We are now facing the very real possibility that we will crash out of the EU in the most chaotic way possible, without a deal of any kind.
“Nobody voted to be poorer, yet that is exactly what will happen if we leave the EU with a bad deal or no deal.
“The overwhelming majority of Merton residents are deeply concerned with the direction the country is heading. Merton Liberal Democrats believe they, not politicians, should be given the final say on the Brexit deal.”
If you would like to join the Merton Liberal Democrat campaign for a People's Vote you can sign up here