Fears that vulnerable children are being left behind during lockdown

As new research reveals the impact of lockdown on childrens’ education we’re calling on the Council to lay out its plans to support
vulnerable children and help schools reopen safely.

Research out last week suggests that as many as 20% of pupils are doing less than an hour of school work a day during lockdown, with some children doing none at all. 

Here in Merton, Lib Dem councillors have discovered that in May the Council identified 666 children and young people as not having suitable computer equipment or internet access available to learn from home. On 22 June, 107 devices were distributed to children in year 10 but it is unclear when the rest of the needed equipment will arrive from the Government.

Liberal Democrat Cllr Hina Bokhari said:

“As a parent, school governor, and former teacher I am profoundly concerned by the deepening educational inequality that lockdown is causing.

“Local charities have been doing incredible work securing laptops and other equipment to allow children to access school work from home. And I know that schools and teachers are doing everything they can to support students.

“But the Government and local authorities need to sit down with teachers, and work out a strategy to enable children to catch up on the education they’ve missed. Otherwise we’re risking the educational development of a generation of children.

“As part of this we’re calling on Merton Council to consider using local public spaces to ease pressure on schools by allowing them to make more space for socially distanced learning.”




Restore free travel for under 18s

Restore Free Travel for Under 18s in London

Siobhan Benita, Liberal Democrat candidate for Mayor of London, has called on the government to urgently reverse the temporary suspension of free travel for under 18s in London.

The condition was part of the recently announced support funding package for Transport for London.

Benita described the scrapping of the concession as “unjust” and said that it will be “a disaster for the capital’s poorest families”. 

Local authorities remain responsible for providing free travel between home and school for children eligible for free school meals, and who need to travel over 3 miles. Following questions from Liberal Democrat councillors, Merton Council estimated this would cost close to £100,000 per year.

Cllr Jenifer Gould added:

“Many young Londoners rely on free travel to get to school. Taking away this concession at a time when so many families are struggling financially is indefensible. And there doesn’t appear to be any plan in place for those in need. The most sensible thing to do at this stage is to urgently reverse the decision.”

You can sign the London-wide petition against this here.


Support Local Businesses

Labour Council bosses have come under fire over plans to return millions of pounds to the Government that was supposed to be for Merton’s businesses.

Local authorities were given money to cover the Business Rates of premises in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors. Within the guidance they were allowed a discretion to support businesses that were similar to those specifically listed. 

Lots of councils up and down the country are doing this. Merton however, is refusing to use this discretion and therefore denying support to businesses like Wimbledon’s three English Language Schools and large numbers of other other companies.

Wimbledon’s Lib Dem Parliamentary spokesman Cllr Paul Kohler said:

“Given that Merton still has money to support local businesses I am at a loss to understand why we have not adopted a similarly more expansive approach, particularly as the Government guidance explicitly states "[t]he list… is not intended to be exhaustive as it would be impossible to list the many and varied uses that exist within the qualifying purposes" and continues by saying "[a]uthorities should determine for themselves whether particular properties not listed are broadly similar in nature to those above and, if so, to consider them eligible for the relief."

 “I am concerned that Merton is taking an overly legalistic approach that fails to recognise the flexibility that they have clearly been given. This is not in keeping with its claims to be a business-like and business-friendly Council. I understand that Merton is proposing to return undistributed funds to Central Government - over currently £3 million- which makes the failure to fully exploit the discretion they have even more perverse.

Businesses have cried out for help.

Jane Dancaster, Managing Director of the Wimbledon School of English said:

“Wimbledon School of English is a family company which has been in Wimbledon since 1964.  We have dedicated years to developing a successful business that brings financial and other benefits to the community, and are proud to be ranked as the number one English language centre in the UK. Covid 19 has had a devastating effect on our business and we are asking the London Borough of Merton to use the Government aid at their disposal to help us survive”

Peter Allan, Managing Director of plusfour market research Ltd in Wimbledon said:

“Why would Merton Council ignore the plight of local businesses, instead choosing to return £3m to the Government? For probably less than 5% of that they could help all of the businesses they are currently rejecting. Why are they not recognising the scope that the Government has given them? Don’t they care about local businesses?”




Transparency in planning

We want local planning decisions to be transparent, and for residents to have a real say.

So we were disappointed by Merton Council’s decision last year to stop publishing residents’ comments on planning applications. At the Council meeting in February Merton Liberal Democrats put forward a motion to reverse that decision. Unfortunately our plan was blocked by Labour councillors. 

At the time we argued that as well as making planning decisions less transparent, the Council’s actions would make it harder for residents to send in effective comments, and for councillors to do their jobs. 

Unfortunately our concerns have been realised, and recently a councillor was unable to access all public comments on a planning application - making it more difficult for him to stand up for local people.

We asked the Council what steps they were taking to prevent similar issues in future, and were told it would be looked into.

Cllr Paul Kohler said:

“As councillors our job is to make sure that residents’ voices are heard. By making the planning process more restrictive the council is making this difficult.

“The Liberal Democrats believe that democracy is more than voting once every four years - residents should be able to engage with the council’s decision making process at all times. That’s why we’ll continue fighting for transparency in planning.”




More than ever, Merton needs a fresh start

As the Government begins to ease the current lockdown, Liberal Democrat councillors have written to the Chief Executive and Leader of the Council to thank council staff for all their hard work during this difficult time.

The Open Letter published by the group also outlines their views on the borough’s vision and approach, as the Council begins to examine what recovery looks like.

Lib Dem lead councillor Anthony Fairclough said: "We wanted to highlight some of the key questions and challenges we think the Council should reflect on as we move into the 'new normal'. We hope to start a discussion of the borough’s future.

"Merton needs to be bold, imaginative and not afraid to occasionally fall short of its ambitions – because to do so means to learn and then improve. We need to show courage and energy, and be willing to do things differently. Our local communities need to be able to trust us to work out what needs to be done, but to be open about why things don’t work sometimes".

"More than ever, our area needs a fresh start. That's about engaging with residents; strengthening local decision-making; building resilience in our communities; rebuilding the local economy; and maximising safety in public spaces".

For the letter in full, please click here.

 


Keeping children (and adults) entertained

We know what it is like trying to keep children entertained and engaged, whilst trying to also work from home.

So we thought we would share some resources we seen, below. Let us know if you've any other suggestions!

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Motspur Park station to be made step-free!

In a victory for local campaigners, Motspur Park station is set to be made 'step-free' - but Raynes Park station has been overlooked yet again.

For several years local Liberal Democrats have campaigned with members of the community to make local stations - particularly Raynes Park and Motspur Park - step-free. These stations are currently only accessible by stairs, presenting significant difficulties for wheelchair users, parents with prams and others with mobility problems.

Poor accessibility at these stations has been a key concern of local residents. A record six Liberal Democrat councillors were elected to Merton Council in 2018 on a platform to push for step-free access for all local stations.

In the two years since then the Liberal Democrat councillors have worked hard to build the case for lifts or ramps at these stations, and to persuade politicians from other parties to support the campaign. Liberal Democrats successfully pressed the Council administration to accept a Lib Dem proposal to back step-free access at Raynes Park and Motspur Park, and helped encourage the train operator to make a bid into the Government's fund to make stations accessible.

On Wednesday the pressure finally told, and the Chancellor agreed a package of support to fund accessibility improvements at Motspur Park.

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Local businesses offering home delivery and collections in Merton

We want to support local businesses, and have listed some we have heard about here – but please note that we haven’t used all of the services below, so cannot endorse them! Let us know if you hear about any others.

**Love Wimbledon, the Wimbledon business improvement district, has information on those businesses that are open in Wimbledon, including pharmacies and post offices and those that do delivery**

Groceries

Clapham Fresh - fruit, veg, 'larder items', has also collected meat from local butchers and bits from Screw Fix. Delivery takes 1-2 working days. Free delivery to SW postcodes, min order £20. https://www.claphamfresh.co.uk/

First Choice Produce - veg boxes, dairy, bread, frozen food - 0207 498 0550, sales@firstchoiceproduce.com / https://www.firstchoiceproduce.com/ 24h phone line Mon-Sat, closed Sunday.

Fruit on Route - weekly fruit, veg and egg orders. Email by Tues midday, with delivery on Thurs, Fri or Sat - @Fruitonroute info@fruitonroute.co.uk 07867972718.

Gourmet Hog Roast - weekly meat and veg boxes (also milk and toilet rolls) - deliveries on Wed/Fri - @GourmetHog info@gourmet-hog-roast.co.uk.

IA Harris - fruit, veg, dairy, dried goods (rice/pasta), tins - min order £20, free delivery - 0207 622 7176 orders@iaharris.co.uk

Leon Wimbledon - now a mini-supermarket, stocking basic essentials such as freshly baked bread, rice, teabags and toilet paper - 02089473550.

Londis, 57 Church Road, Mitcham - offering local delivery for elderly / vulnerable - 02086484968.

Pale Green Dot - fruit, veg and ‘staples’ (bread/milk/eggs) boxes delivered, happy to take payment over the phone - https://www.palegreendot.co.uk/

Solstice - fruit, veg and 'staples' (milk, butter, bread, eggs) boxes - 020 7498 7700 homedelivery@solstice.co.uk - free next day delivery on orders placed by 8pm.

Smith and Brock - various fruit & veg and dairy/bread boxes. Delivery free with orders over £35 (£5 delivery charge otherwise). Delivery to SE, SW and W postcodes only - delivery takes 3 days. knockknock@smithandbrock.com / https://www.knock-knock-groceries.com/

Sushi Cupcake - fruit, veg, 'staples', and household items - delivery is free for elderly/vulnerable, £7.50 for others - £60 min order - grocery@sushicupcake.co.uk / https://sushicupcake.co.uk/grocery/

Time & Leisure Magazine's take on food delivery services - in south west London.

Meat and fish

Coppin Brothers - butcher, Mitcham Road, free delivery locally, min order £15 if further away - 07957666191 / www.coppins-butchers.com

Field and Flower - online butcher/fishmonger - delivery £2.95 Mon-Frid, and £3.95 at weekends - 02037358005 https://field-flower.mention-me.com/m/wa/ho5zy-antonia-nogales-pena

Heanens Wholesale Meats Ltd - free delivery, min order £25. http://heanens.com

Prepared meals

Earles & co - delivery of freshly prepared meals - https://www.weareearles.co.uk/eat/delivery

Mica Cafe - call 020-8542-6555 for takeaway.

Mustard Family Foods - delivery of frozen prepared meals, soups etc, meat and vegan options - 25% off with codes THANKS25OFF or NEW25OFF - 02038481303 info@mustardfoods.com

 


COVID-19: Coronavirus advice

As of 16 March 2020 the Government has announced a series of new measures to combat the spread of coronavirus. These include working from home as much as possible, avoiding unnecessary travel, reducing social contact and avoiding public spaces like bars, restaurants and theatres.

The Government's guidance on these measures can be read online here - please take a moment to read it carefully.

If you are aged 70 or over, you are pregnant, or you have a health condition which means you would normally be instructed to get the flu jab each year you are advised to take additional precautions - please read the guidance above and refer to the table below.

More general advice from the NHS on coronavirus, symptoms and how to avoid catching or spreading the virus can be found online here.

The table below provides a helpful summary of the Government's recommended measures:

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The Lib Dem plan for a fresh start for Merton

What is Merton Council for? Neither the Labour administration nor the Conservative opposition seem to have an answer to this simple question. But we do: Lib Dems believe our Council exists to take those decisions - sometimes small, sometimes tough - that can make our daily lives better.

We want the Council to be the best it can be, so it can do the best it can do for local people. But up until now the Council, under the same Labour adminsitration and with the same timid Conservative opposition that it’s had for the past decade, has been unwilling to change or to try new ideas.

We think Merton Council, and local people, need a fresh start.

So today Lib Dem councillors will be putting forward amendments to the Council’s annual budget to change the way that the Council works for the better. Here’s our three point plan:

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