A cross-party committee of councillors has blocked Labour’s plans to hike parking charges by up to 130% due to the Council’s failure to follow proper equalities procedures.
Wednesday evening’s special meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Commission was arranged after the Lib Dem and the Conservative groups each submitted separate motions to ‘call in’ the Council’s proposals to raise the costs of parking permits in Wimbledon and Raynes Park.
During the crunch meeting Cllr Anthony Fairclough, proposer of the Lib Dem call-in, challenged the plan for its failure to follow the Council’s set equality assessment process. The Council’s analysis of the plan identified potential disproportionate impacts on people with disabilities, pregnant women and women who’ve just given birth, as well as some people on low incomes.
In his submission, Cllr Fairclough showed that the Council had failed to consult people from the relevant groups appropriately over ways to minimise any negative impacts - contrary to the Council's published process. He also challenged the Council over the total lack of evidence to support claims that the charges would lead to a reduction in car ownership, and thereby improve air quality:
“When considering groups protected by our equality laws, the relevant principle is ‘no decision about us, without us’.
“That clearly did not happen here. I am pleased that councillors from all parties on the Commission were able to hold the Council to account for failing to follow its equality process.”
The Commission voted to refer the proposal back to the Council cabinet to carry out a proper equality assessment. The Liberal Democrat call-in can be seen on Youtube here.
A formal challenge to Merton Labour’s plans to massively increase parking charges based on where people live has been lodged by Lib Dem councillors.
The Council Cabinet forced agreed the plan at its meeting on 15 July 2019, and in response, an application to “call in” the decision was made by the Liberal Democrat group on Saturday 20th July.
Lib Dem council group leader Anthony Fairclough said:
“The Labour administration says these new charges will reduce traffic and encourage people to give up their cars, but they’ve repeatedly failed to provide any evidence that suggests this is likely to happen1.
“The scheme looks like it’s purely to raise revenue, mainly targeted at people who live in areas that don’t elect Labour councillors – Wimbledon and Raynes Park – where the new charges will be highest. We hope that the ‘call-in’ will force them to look at their plans again.
"Instead we want them to look seriously at schemes where the worst polluting vehicles pay more, where support is given to help people change to greener vehicles, and where other positive action is also taken to improve air quality."
In addition, Lib Dem parliamentary candidate for Wimbledon, Cllr Paul Kohler, is speaking to lawyers from the same firm who represented him in his legal action to save Wimbledon Police Station, about whether the measures are legal.
“Facts matter: how can Labour say that raising taxes on parked cars will improve air quality and health outcomes when council officers have confirmed that no such evidence has been provided?
“Furthermore, Council officers indicated that some older and disabled people, women who are pregnant or who have just given birth, and those with lower incomes could be badly affected by the policy2, and yet there doesn’t seem to have been any real consultation with those affected about how to reduce the negative impact. This is basic equality law.
“I am currently consulting my lawyers to see whether we can challenge this policy in the courts as discriminatory. I took the Mayor of London to court to reverse his unlawful decision to close Wimbledon Police Station and I’m quite willing to do the same with Merton Council if solicitors confirm we have a good case.”
“I hope sense will prevail, as I have no wish to embroil our Council in legal action. All I am asking is that they adopt a non-discriminatory approach to addressing the very real financial pressures caused by the Government’s failure to fund local government properly.
“The decision lacks: evidence that it will improve air quality; logic - they are increasing costs in those areas where air quality is best; principle - they are only applying it to areas that tend not to vote Labour; and buy-in - with over 3000 submissions to the consultation3 nearly all of whom opposed the measures.”
Please find the response of Merton Liberal Democrats and the Liberal Democrat Council group on Merton Council below.
In addition, we would like to submit the (currently) 1092-strong petition stating “We, the undersigned, call on Merton to scrap its plan to double parking charges in Wimbledon and Raynes Park. Any replacement scheme should be based on clear evidence that it will improve air quality, and not unproven assertions” attached.
We believe Merton Council should scrap its plans to massively increase parking charges based on where people live. We believe it should instead bring forward proposals for parking charges based on emissions, testing and shaping these proposals using evidence from its planned review of the diesel levy and emissions based charges (expediting that review if necessary), and learning lessons from similar schemes adopted by other London Boroughs. For us, a key factor is providing real, practical help to enable residents to switch to greener transport options.
Please find our responses to the set questions below.
Last night (6 Feb) there was an extraordinary meeting of Merton Council to discuss the Council's waste contractor, Veolia.
The Liberal Democrat group opposed a Conservative proposal to wait until 2024 and then just swap to another contractor. Liberal Democrat councillors instead put forward an amendment demanding that Merton Council, together with the South London Waste Partnership, immediately review its processes in managing and monitoring waste management services - so that lessons could be learned.
[You can watch the debate on Youtube here]
After debate, the Liberal Democrat amendment was ultimately supported by Conservative councillors. But despite this, it was blocked by Labour Council bosses who shockingly claimed there were no problems.
Speaking after the meeting, the leader of the Lib Dem group, Cllr Anthony Fairclough said:
"I was surprised that the Conservatives were willing to let the current situation continue for another 5 years, while we waited for an opportunity to try to end Veolia's contract and swap contractors.
"The Liberal Democrats on the Council want to see real action now. That's why we’re demanding an immediate review of how Merton could better manage waste and recycling contracts - whether the contractor is Veolia or another company in the future - to keep our borough clean and the bins emptied.
"We need to look and learn what works - Merton must get better at being a Council that commissions services, rather than one that provides services directly.
"I'm pleased we won over the Conservatives to our way of thinking on this in the end. But it's frankly extraordinary that Labour councillors are unwilling to consider new ways of tackling the problem!"
Labour council bosses determined to press ahead with new parking scheme.
At a meeting of Merton Council focusing on air quality, Liberal Democrats councillors called on the Council to scrap their plans to massively increase parking charges based on where you live, and instead move towards an emissions based scheme where the worst polluting vehicles pay more.
The plan was voted down by Labour councillors. [You can see the debate here on Youtube]
An analysis by Merton Lib Dems has shown that the proposed new charges for residents parking permits will mainly affect areas without Labour councillors. The increases will raise £1.4m a year, over £1m (70%) of which will be paid by people in Wimbledon, £172k from Raynes park but only £72k (5%) from the whole of Mitcham and Morden.
Lib Dem Cllr Simon McGrath said:
“Labour Council bosses have provided no evidence that their plan to increase parking charges will reduce traffic. The scheme looks like it’s purely to raise revenue, targeted at people who live in areas that don’t elect Labour councillors.”
Please sign our petition here: http://www.mertonlibdems.org.uk/parkingcharges
Lib Dem Cllr Eloise Bailey also proposed the appointment of a new Air quality Scrutiny Champion, to ensure a focus on effective action to cut air pollution. This was also blocked by Labour councillors. [You can see the debate here on Youtube]
Speaking after the meeting Cllr Bailey said:
“I'm so disappointed. Poor air quality is a huge health issue, and our idea was to try to get a real focus on air quality in the Council’s work, and get effective action.”
Merton’s new rubbish collection scheme has been in place since 1st October, and we have been made aware of a number of issues. Recurring problems include wheelie bins not being returned to properties after rubbish collection, and collections being missed.
Cllr Paul Kohler has been in touch with council officers regarding bins being left in the pavements / roads after collection, and it has been confirmed that instructions given to Veolia staff are to replace bins on properties after collection. If your bins are not replaced on your property after collection please let your local ward councillors know so they can raise it with the relevant team at the council, who will handle the complaint.
If your rubbish isn’t collected you can report it on the Merton Council website, and a team will come out to collect it provided the rubbish was `presented'. Some residents are having issues with rubbish not being collected as it wasn’t presented properly - information on how rubbish should be presented can be found here. If moving the bins each week is difficult for you, you can apply for assisted collection.
The new scheme of wheelie bins and fortnightly collections begins on 1 October.
There is some flexibility in the system if wheelies don't work for you.
So: please call the Council on 020 8274 4902 if
- You will struggle to store the bins in your front garden (or if you don’t have one!) - the Council will reassess your property [although still trying to get them to confirm the size of garden they think is needed].
- Moving the bins each week would be difficult for you. You can apply for an assisted collection. You can also do this online here.
- You are in a household of five or more, or have a medical condition, to request a larger bin.
- You want to share some bins with a neighbour.
Lastly, it's really annoying/not possible for lots of people to wait in a phone queue - your councillors can contact the relevant Council department for you (without needing to call). Find your councillor here.
If you haven't any wheelie bins, but they've been delivered to your neighbours, you can report a missing, lost or stolen bin online. Please use your current method of collection until your new wheelie bins arrive.
AND - your old bins can be collected by the Council for recycling using the bulky waste collection service, *apparently*.
Find your NEW COLLECTION DAY here.
The leader of the Council said on 18 September, that they are considering a borough-wide collection of old bins for recycling, we should know in a few months.
Labour council bosses have blocked investigation into why the street cleaning and bin collection contract is failing.
Lib Dem councillors had proposed a new task group that would focus on: improving Veolia’s performance, training Council employees for the task, and the costs and legal process to maintain weekly bin collections.
Cllr Anthony Fairclough, Leader of Merton’s Lib Dem councillors said:
“You just have to look down any road in the borough to see missed rubbish and recycling collections, ignored flytips, litter and mess. This seems likely to get worse with the switch to wheelie bins and collecting rubbish fortnightly.
“It’s extraordinary that Labour councillors blocked a new way of looking at these problems in detail and making some recommendations”.
Cllr Fairclough added:
“It’s also a bit odd that Conservative councillors wouldn’t back our suggestion of looking at ways to restore weekly bin collections and the costs of that. We also wanted a close look at the training and effectiveness of council staff in managing Council contracts, and the problems caused for residents by the roll-out of wheelie bins. Labour blocked these suggestions and the Conservatives refused to support them”.
Following a formal request from Cllr Anthony Fairclough in August 2018, Merton Council allowed the publication of the "Veolia performance dashboards" from 3 September, a set of weekly statistics that show the performance of Merton's waste collection and street cleaning contractor.
We have been asked to make the following information clear:
"This weekly information is a snapshot of customer reports and inspections and may differ from Monthly performance reports and contractual Service Performance Indicators which are reported on elsewhere. The purpose of this report is to provide a more frequent ‘barometer’ of performance and perceptions."
Weekly performance statistics
Liberal Democrats in Merton have condemned secrecy over waste contractor’s performance.
Deputy leader of Merton Lib Dem councillors, Cllr Carl Quilliam has hit out at the decision not to publish figures on the weekly performance of the Council’s waste contractor, Veolia, on collecting refuse and cleaning our streets.
Cllr Quilliam said:
“We can all see what a poor job Veolia are doing in keeping our streets clean and collecting rubbish and recycling. The Council’s own figures show exactly how bad their performance is.
“But for some reason councillors aren’t allowed to share these figures with residents. Perhaps Labour are worried it makes them look like they’re failing to hold Veolia to account?
“We have written to Labour Council bosses and the Council’s Chief Executive asking them to make the figures public – and importantly to reveal how much money they’ve managed to claw back from Veolia because of poor performance. If that doesn’t happen soon, we will take this to the next full Council meeting”.