Merton freezes council tax fifth year in row

Merton Council agreed at full council (4 March 2015) to freeze council tax for the fifth year running, with a majority of councillors voting in favour of the balanced budget for 2015-16.

To help local residents in these financially challenging times, the council is freezing the Merton element of its council tax for the fifth year in a row. Also, for the third year running, the council will absorb the government’s 2012 reduction in council tax support, ensuring residents on low incomes will continue to receive the same amount of council tax support as in previous years as long as their circumstances have not changed.

Central government has reduced funding to local authorities by 40%. Over the next four years, the council is faced with having to make £32 million in savings across all its services.  However, the council has decided that adult social care and children’s services should take a smaller share of the cuts. In addition, the council is investing an extra £1m into children’s social care to protect the most vulnerable children.

The level of cuts required means that the council has had to review all its services to find savings. It has used its good financial management to find new ways of delivering services at less cost to council tax payers.  By working together with neighbouring boroughs Kingston, Sutton and Richmond through the South London Waste Partnership, the council intends to save over £1m a year on managing parks and open spaces as well as waste. The council will ensure a new contract with environmental services specialists will give good value to tax payers with no impact on residents. The Cabinet has also found a way to make the adult education service more affordable by working with other local education providers to continue to offer good quality adult education in the borough.

Despite the government’s cuts to the council’s funding and the difficult decisions to be made, Merton’s good financial management means it has been able to keep all its libraries, children’s centres and day centres open, when other councils are closing theirs.  The council has also protected the weekly refuse collection.

Investing in Merton’s future

The council’s business-like approach to making services more affordable means it is able to invest in Merton. Examples of forthcoming major investment include:

  • £1 million extra a year for children’s services which will help with safeguarding children in the borough including Looked After Children, ensuring they are supported in their family-based and wider placements.
  • £73m up to 2018/19 on expanding school provision and creating 5,000 extra places across primary and secondary level. £41m is allocated to be spent on expanding secondary schools. Harris Morden, Harris Merton and St Mark’s Academy have been earmarked for expansion to accommodate the increasing number of school children in the borough.
  • £11m to build a new leisure centre for Morden, replacing the current expensive to maintain building with a new affordable pool that will cost less for the council to look after and to operate.
  • Working with a developer to build a new West Barnes Library which will come at no cost to the taxpayer and will be cheaper for the council to run and maintain than the current ageing building.
  • An estimated £14 million over the coming years to revitalise the borough’s town centres, including £5 million for Mitcham, £1.5 million for Colliers Wood, £3.3 million for the proposed Morden town centre regeneration scheme and £3.2m for Wimbledon Town Centre. By investing in town centres the council also hopes to create job opportunities for residents and for young people in particular.

Merton Council cabinet member for finance Councillor Mark Allison said: “With government cuts to councils of 40% and a savings target of £32m a year by 2019, we’ve had to make some tough choices. However, because we have run the council’s finances in a business-like way we are able to offer real benefits for local residents, including a record fifth consecutive Council Tax freeze, thousands more school places, a new library, and a new swimming pool. That perhaps explains why the independent annual residents’ survey shows more residents than ever before say Merton is value for money and well run.”

The budget papers can be read in full on the council’s website.