Merton balances budget in face of cuts

Merton Council agreed its budget for 2011/2012 on Wednesday night (2 March), presenting a balanced budget in the face of significantly reduced government grants.

The council has set out how it will achieve £24 million savings while minimising impact on front line services that the community needs most. It also announced that the average council tax for Merton’s residents will be frozen for 2011/12.

Top priorities for Merton remain trying to protect services for the borough’s younger and older residents and the voluntary sector. The majority of savings and reductions will result from changes to the council’s back office functions and changes to procurement and other reductions to ensure services for our most vulnerable residents are protected.

The council will continue to review all its business, challenging and changing the way it works to ensure it provides value for money to residents through efficient, essential services. Sharing legal and HR services with other councils as well as jointly commissioning products and services with them is one way in which the council is set to make significant savings in the future.

The Government’s Spending Review 2010 announced a 26% reduction in government grants over the next four years to 2014/15. Merton’s main Government grant for 2011/12 has been reduced by 13.3% (worth more than £10 million) and is set to fall by at least another 9.4% (£6 million) in 2012/13.

In addition to the £24 million savings Merton has made for 2011/12, the council will need to find a further £45 million in savings over the following three years.

The council will be investing over £65 million during 2011/2012 in improved services and the borough’s built environment. This will include refurbishing Wimbledon Park Water Sports Centre and giving a summer face lift to Wimbledon town centre. The council will also receive a separate grant of £8.6 million for its schools which will be used to increase the number of school places in the borough. This grant will go towards the £40m cost of expanding local schools over the coming few years. The remainder of the money will have to be found by Merton Council and other grants which we may receive in the future.

Leader of Merton Council Councillor Stephen Alambritis said:

“Making these decisions was not easy and we have worked hard to make sure we minimise the impact of the cuts on our residents as much as possible. Unfortunately, given the scale of the savings we will have to make over the coming years, we will have to do more than just increase the council’s efficiency. This means losing some council staff and, in some cases, changing the way we deliver services.

“We recognise that times are tough for many residents and families, which is why we are freezing council tax for 2011/12. We have also introduced a free bulky waste service to help residents dispose of large household items easily and are reducing the cost of visitor parking permits. We have also listened and acted on a number of concerns raised throughout this budget process and as a result have amended initial savings about libraries, the borough’s parks and clarified arrangements for the community forums.

“With all the tough decisions we are having to make, we are committed to making Merton a vibrant place where people want to live, do business and spend their leisure time.”