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”.
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.
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.
The Council’s budget press release is here.