Merton Liberal Democrats are extremely concerned about Merton’s low vaccination rates. Even before the pandemic came along, our borough had one of the country’s worst records for childhood vaccine levels. And Merton's record is similarly poor for vaccinations recommended for adults.
As we move forward with COVID-19, this is a tragedy.
The low level of vaccination in the borough must impact negatively on the NHS in the winter months. And when a vaccine for coronavirus does become available, it's unlikely that the overall poor level of take-up will improve without urgent action.
Merton Council must get to grips with tackling this issue.
That's why we called for urgent action at the November council meeting.
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Merton Council has implemented (or is in the process of doing so) several 'School Streets' in roads around schools across the borough. These measures are designed to deter car trips for the `school run' by restricting motorised access in and out of the identified roads during the morning school opening and afternoon school closing periods under an Experimental Traffic Management Order (ETMO).
For over 2 months water has been leaking on the road and pavement outside South Merton train station.
Cannon Hill Councillor Jenifer Gould has persistently contacted Thames Water, Network Rail and Merton Council to get the leak fixed and return the pavement and road to a safer condition.
Lib Dem Cllr Paul Kohler has called for urgent action following a report by the Local Government Ombudsman into the case of a Merton resident who was forced to give up a job in London when Merton Council housed his family in Birmingham.
Merton Council’s housing policy allows it to prioritise certain households for homes in Merton, or within a 90 minute commute of the borough. Households who don’t meet certain criteria, including employment, can be housed “wherever accommodation can be secured”.
But the Ombudsman found that Merton Council had ignored information about the resident’s employment when housing him in Birmingham.
Cllr Paul Kohler said:
"We need urgent action from Merton Council to make sure that mistakes like this cannot happen again. This must include a review of everyone who has been housed more than 90 minutes away to see if they have been similarly affected.
“But we need to go further and investigate why we are housing people so far from their relatives and friends in the first place. Moving families to places where they know no-one is hugely stressful and disruptive and Merton should be avoiding doing so whenever possible.”
Liberal Democrat councillors have written to the Council asking what steps are being taken to avoid this happening again, and requesting a review of everyone who has been housed outside London in the last 2 years.
Liberal Democrat councillors have demanded Merton Council implements a name-blind recruitment process after it was revealed that it has a lower proportion of BAME senior managers than the average for councils across London.
A new report looking at the recruitment of senior council officers found that the proportion of BAME top earners was only 14.1% for Merton Council–against an average of 17% for all London boroughs. The current overall proportion of BAME council employees is 38%, potentially indicating that barriers to progression also exist.
Writing to Labour council bosses, Lib Dem Councillor Eloise Bailey said:
“We should be doing everything in our power to remove any barriers that limit the career opportunities of BAME candidates to ensure the Council reflects the people it represents. Again, we urge the Labour administration to adopt a simple, name-blind recruitment process”.
Despite this tried-and-tested approach being backed by the CBI, the body representing employers, as “needed to stop bias”, Council bosses have so far turned down the opportunity to implement this simple change.
Improving recruitment processes is one of a number of areas that Merton Liberal Democrats have been challenging the Council on to raise its record on equality. Others include calling on the Council to conduct a review into barriers to accessibility of being a councillor, and strengthening the process of Equality Impact Assessments.
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 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.
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.