Open letter: council tax 'consultation' & adult social care

In March, Merton Council passed on the couple of pounds a month pre-election Council Tax cut from Boris.

It could have used the money to help protect ‘adult social care’ - but instead, services like Meals on Wheels were cut.

We were shocked that a Labour-run Council would do this.

After an outcry, a consultation on Council Tax was promised. The ‘consultation’ is now available here.

Merton's Lib Dem councillor, cllr Mary-Jane Jeanes has just sent the following open letter to the Labour leader of Merton Council. We will publish his reply.

Dear Stephen,

May I take this opportunity to write to you regarding the consultation on Council Tax. Over the last few weeks, residents have contacted me asking for clarification about about the current Council tax consultation. After discussion, many cannot understand why the equivalent of the 2% precept, ring-fenced for Adult Social Care (ASC), was not taken up.

Incidentally, I share the concerns raised by Councillor David Williams at the last Council meeting about the timing and lack of information given to councillors.

Merton Liberal Democrats clearly support the principle of consulting residents on this important issue and welcome the chance for residents to feed into the budget process. However I feel I must highlight the problems I see with the wording.

Firstly, whilst this consultation may meet minimum legal requirements, as a general principle I believe that as a Council we should be aiming higher. Put simply, on the face of it this doesn’t look like a genuinely open consultation process that will engage residents across the borough.

It is certainly not clear how the Council is seeking to ensure the maximum possible engagement by local residents or, in the case of a low response rate, how responses might be weighted to get a representative view. In fact it is not made clear to residents at the outset how their feedback will be used at all. More detailed press releases, giving more information, would encourage more of our residents to respond.

I also do not believe it is possible to answer the questions about acceptable increases in council tax in the abstract without a better grounding in what that money is used for.

  • On the first page, it says, “We have frozen Council Tax since 2010 and promise to do so until March 2019.” Surely readers will think “Given your intention there’s no point in this consultation” and not bother to reply.
  • Section 1 and Q1: It is assumed that residents know what councils’ statutory services are. I’ve been asked by numerous people why education is not listed, for example.
  • Q 3: More explanation is needed about what Adult Social monies are spent on - eg visits to the housebound by carers, day centres etc.
  • Q 4: There should be a clear explanation of the cuts that have been made in recent years.
  • Section 2 and Q 6: With the explanation of the Government’s 2% precept for use on ASC, there should have been a brief statement explaining why the administration chose not make use of it this year, and instead to cut services further. (Remember that Merton is one of only 8 councils in England not to take up the opportunity to make use of the Council Tax Precept for Adult Social Care)
  • In order to be politically unbiased, there should have been a statement saying that opposition councillors proposed keeping households’ Council Tax bills static using equivalent of the monies which had, in previous years, been the Olympic precept.

Looking ahead, I fear that Merton’s decision not to use the precept may send a message that we do not need as much central government funding, which may impact adversely on us in future settlements.

This is a time for political bravery.

If you genuinely want to protect adult social care as a priority then I believe you should be brave enough to argue for it, both last year and now as part of this consultation. 

I look forward to hearing from you.

Best wishes 


Mary-Jane Jeanes,

Lib Dem councillor for West Barnes Ward.

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