Merton Liberal Democrats realise that the coronavirus pandemic has put a severe strain on the budgets of councils across the country - and as a result, difficult decisions need to be made. We join all those urging the Government to provide enough additional support to local authorities.
The Labour party's proposed budget can be found on Merton Council's website.
In our budget amendments we will focused on three things:
- Investing in the future, by supporting children & young people;
- Ensuring those who have been on the front-line of the coronavirus pandemic receive a fair wage for their vital work; and
- Helping to tackle the climate emergency.
With this in mind, we have proposed a number of amendments to the budget plans (the full text of our amendments can be found on the Merton Council website):
1. 'Free school breakfast club' scheme
Local residents and businesses showed incredible generosity in stepping in to address the shortfall in Government support during the Coronavirus lockdown. One of the places this was seen most clearly was in the Free School Meals campaign where people donated cash to help families during school holidays.
We're now calling on the Council to run a pilot scheme to allow children who are eligible for pupil premium to attend school 'breakfast clubs' for free, to help tackle this issue - giving them and their families more support. This would be funded by voluntary donations from local residents and businesses.
2. Caring for our communities
Care workers have been on the front-line during the coronavirus pandemic. They're also amongst the lowest paid in our community. While Council employees are paid at least the London Living Wage, care workers who work for private companies that contract with the council, are not.
Last year we succeeded in convincing the council to take small but practical steps to ensure that all care workers in the borough receive the London Living wage. We're now calling on the council to make a firm commitment to aware all future contracts at the London Living wage.
We're also very concerned about the multiple changes that the Council wants to make to day centres, children's centres and the dementia hub. They say they want to re-imagine the way the services are provided - but we're worried this is just a way of cutting services quickly. So we are asking the Council to show councillors the detailed plans before they make the changes, to try to ensure that the people who use these services don't lose out.
3. Supporting our future
After the lockdown has eased we must focus on younger people, looking in particular at their health and opportunities. So we're calling on the Council to agree to:
- a review into whether dedicated Merton-based sexual health and mental health services for vulnerable young people escaping sexual exploitation could and should be introduced;
- a review into the operation and effectiveness of pupil referral units;
- a review of Merton’s use of the apprenticeships, to ensure the best routes for Merton's young adults to enter the job market, support local businesses to grow, and to stop the practice of LB Merton returning unused/expired apprenticeship levy monies to HM Treasury; and
- the necessary work to establish a Landlord Licensing scheme.
4. Addressing the climate emergency
Tackling the climate emergency must be a key focus for councils across the country. The Council's climate action plan depends on securing funding for projects to help achieve the huge change we need, and so part of our amendment is about putting in place enough staff resources to make sure that plan succeeds.
Furthermore, Merton Council recently introduced a new parking charges scheme, which they say is designed to improve air quality. We've argued before that we don't think the scheme will be effective, and that it will undermine the climate emergency response because people think its just a way to raise cash.
So, at the budget meeting we're proposing a number of changes to improve it:
- Extra revenue raised by the new charges should be separately reported, and should be ringfenced for spending on ways to tackle climate change;
- A new low mileage discount or rebate - this would encourage people to drive less, as well as mitigating the effects of higher parking charges on low income households that can't afford to buy a new car; and
- Reconsider the changes to visitors permits - it's not fair or effective to charge people more based on the type of car their visitor turns up in. How can that result in their visitor buying a more environmentally friendly car? It just looks like a way to raise cash, and disproportionately affects some older or disabled people who need more visits from care workers and family.