Early signs indicate a balanced budget for Merton

Merton Council’s cabinet last night agreed the latest stage of its budget for 2010/11 with early signs indicating that despite facing challenging financial circumstances this year, the council will present a balanced budget.

A report discussed by the cabinet on Monday (18 January) indicates that the council has provisionally closed the significant budget gap of £14.5million it faced at the start of the financial year. Once the latest proposed savings have been scrutinised, it is expected that the council will balance its books by February and then can go on to consider council tax options.

In order to balance the books the council has already proposed £10.5million worth of savings and with this latest update it is proposing to make an additional £1.1million savings, bringing the total to £11.6million.

Restructuring and reducing staff have made the bulk of the savings but also by changing the way the council works to become more efficient for the long term. Income from council services will also play a part in balancing the books. Around £8.2million of the savings already presented to cabinet have been through the scrutiny process, with another £3.4million savings and the draft budget provision for essential growth of £4.7million undergoing scrutiny analysis by councillors in the next few weeks.

The level of council tax for 2010/11 has not been set yet and cabinet will not make the final proposals on the budget and the council tax rate until their next meeting in February. These will then be presented to the full council meeting on 3 March as the recommended budget and council tax for 2010/11.

Councillor Diane Neil Mills, Merton Council cabinet member for finance and regeneration said:

” Making efficiency savings across the council has been crucial in this budget process, which together with improved procurement, represents over 60% of the savings. As well as turbulence in the economy having an impact on the council’s income, Merton also only receives the minimum level of funding from central government. This means that although Merton may have similar issues or levels of demand as many other boroughs, it has to deal with them with fewer funds and resources.

” With the low funding and the impact of the recession really hitting home this year we knew it would be very challenging to balance the budget and it has taken a lot of hard work by officers to get to this point. We still have some savings to finalise and will have nothing completely agreed until February and not finalised until full council in March, but pending final details we intend to continue offering residents the best possible value for money and to pass on the savings we have made.”