Merton Council agreed its balanced budget this evening (6 March 2013) and kept its promise to freeze council tax for the third year running.
Merton is the only council in South London to freeze council tax and maintain council tax rebates for low-income households at existing levels.
Merton says it is sticking to its principles agreed at the beginning of its medium-term budget planning in July 2011: looking after the vulnerable, keeping council tax low and keeping the streets clean.
In addition to freezing council tax, the council has implemented a new council tax support scheme for 2013/14. The scheme means the council will not be passing on the government reduction in council tax benefit to the thousands of Merton households who most need financial help.
Confidence in the council’s efficiency and good financial management is revealed in the 2012 Annual Residents’ Survey, with the number of residents thinking the council gives value for money at an all time high. Residents also say that the council is doing a good job, is efficient and well run.
In line with its July 2011 principles, the council will continue to keep the streets clean by maintaining regular street sweeping across the borough as well as its free bulky waste collections. Merton is also looking to roll out smart bins to all its town centres in an effort to reduce chewing gum and cigarette litter. Weekly doorstep waste and recycling collections are to continue.
The council is also looking after vulnerable residents by maintaining its £1million grant for the voluntary sector. An extra £87,000 will go to local charities from 2014 as a result of the budget. £1m is also being added to Merton’s adult social care budget each year for the next three years.
Unlike some councils, Merton is not closing any libraries, children’s centres or leisure centres.
Nevertheless, some tough decisions have been made, and £11m savings have been identified over the next three years. This includes efficiency savings and better procurement, but there are also cuts to services and suppliers.
The council has agreed to maintain funding for the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, but in response to concerns that the scheme was disproportionately funding students at select schools, the council will now refocus its spending to encourage greater take up from a wider background.
Merton Council cabinet member for finance Councillor Mark Allison said: “These are very challenging times but our top priority must be the people in Merton who need our help most. That’s why we’re keeping the cost of living down by freezing council tax for a record third year. We’re the only council in South London to do this and make sure families on low incomes continue to get their council tax rebates.
“In line with our principles, we are also protecting services to the people who need it most. We are putting £1m a year more into adult social care, haven’t closed any children’s centres, and are finding more money for local charities.
“We can do this because we are a well-run council and are good at keeping our costs low. We share services with neighbouring boroughs, get good deals from our suppliers and our residents are telling us that we’re efficient and well run.”
Merton’s budget paper: http://www.merton.gov.uk/budget2013