Merton's budget council 2024

7 Mar 2024
Merton budget proposals from Merton Lib Dems

Our alternative vision for Merton

Last night, Liberal Democrat councillors set out our alternative vision for Merton. We believe Merton Council should champion the local area, it should be competent in its operations, show compassion in its dealings with people and candour in its decisions, successes – and failures.

With 17 Lib Dem Councillors across the Borough, we are the main challengers to the Labour administration. With this in mind, we proposed a series of fully costed amendments to enhance the 2024-25 Budget. By law amendments can only be proposed if the Council's finance officers sign them off – which they did.

Our vision is for Merton to be an open Council that you can trust to spend your money wisely.

We know how angry people are that Labour Council bosses splashed out £230,000 on redecorating the offices of the Labour Leader of the Council and Labour councillors last year. We don't agree that concern about this is "actually irrelevant" and we don't think it's right that they tried to hide this decision away in a report issued just before Christmas 2022, and with all the detail in an exempt paper.

An open council wouldn't waste money on self-indulgent projects, nor would it hide spending commitments in documents which the public aren't even allowed to read.

An open council that acted with candour would also make sure that big investment projects – like building new homes, reviving town centres, and helping to make stations 'step-free' – are delivered on time and on budget. How many go over budget, and by how much? The truth is that the Council doesn't tell us.

Our Budget amendments push Merton Council to publish all substantial delays and significant (>10%) overspends on major projects, so that we can check your money is spent responsibly.

Our vision is for Merton to be a council that is compassionate in the way it treats people.

compassionate Council would invest in early life and later life care.

Merton Liberal Democrats will take as much action as possible to cut child poverty caused by the 'two-child benefit cap'. We have identified £400,000 of unspent Council funds which could be used to support the 3,675 children in Merton who are affected by the two-child limit. We have also recommended that the Council invests a further £300,000 of unspent funds in Adult Social Care and prioritises increasing this budget in the longer term. 

And a compassionate Council would abolish charges for disabled parking badge applications, it would open libraries on more days of the week, as vital community hubs, and it would prioritise play by opening public paddling pools a month earlier in summer. We would scrap Labour plans for a new, and highly paid, senior council employee to fund these improvements.

Our vision is for Merton to be a competent Council which prioritises good policy over playing politics.

competent Council would use parking charges to reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality, not to punish people who happen to live in Wimbledon or Raynes Park with much higher charges. It doesn't seem right that residents' parking is almost double if you live in certain parts of the borough.

Our detailed proposals include creating a low-mileage rebate to encourage residents to drive less. This would also help those who play their part environmentally, but who cannot afford to switch to a new electric or low-emission vehicles. We would also create discounts for smaller and safer vehicles. We would look at ways to support people on lower incomes too.

Finally, a competent Council would provide funding to keep our schools running after endless real-terms cuts by Conservative MPs. School spending power in Merton will be cut by the equivalent of £210 per pupil in 2024/25

To invest in our future, we have identified £300,000 of unspent funds to invest in schools and to help them manage extra costs and invest in the shift away from budget-bludgeoning oil and gas and towards renewable energy sources, as well as other measures like insulation and ventilation. 

Proposals blocked out of hand

Unfortunately, Labour councillors blocked all the proposals from other councillors – voting down the 4 amendments from the Liberal Democrats, one from the Conservatives and one from a now independent, but former Labour, councillor.

The Conservatives had little to offer, with an odd shopping list of ideas – including an echo of the poll tax, as they want to charge residents on some of the lowest incomes in the borough hundreds of pounds in Council tax. Obviously, Liberal Democrat councillors could not back this, even if we agreed with some of the other elements.

The Council's budget clearly contains some good points – but when scrutinising it, we identified huge 'systemic' under-and-overspends in certain areas. Additionally, the Council went over budget last year by millions of pounds – which was not fully addressed. 

The current situation requires cuts to Council services that probably don't need to be made – just because the money is piled up in the wrong place.

On top of this, all ideas to amend the budget were rejected out of hand, and as such we did not feel we could back it and so voted against it. Sadly Labour councillors indicated last night they plan to claim this means we voted against the good things in the budget - this is disingenuous, and an attempt to take advantage of the public's lack of knowledge of council processes. Again, if they acted with candour they wouldn't do this!