Proposed savings to balance the council’s budget from April next year were considered by Merton’s cabinet this week, ahead of further government cuts expected to be announced later this year. By being business-like, Merton has been able to base the proposed budget on delivering a sixth consecutive council tax freeze for all residents, including those on low incomes.
Despite year on year reductions in the council’s funding from central government, more residents than ever before are telling the council that it is efficient and well-run. Also, people are no longer as worried as they used to be about big hikes in council tax, reflecting the council’s decision to freeze council tax for the previous five years and its decision not to pass on the government’s cut to council tax benefit, helping the lowest paid in the borough.
Since 2010, government has cut 40% from local councils’ funding, which inevitably means there will have to be further cuts made to local services.
Reductions in funding from central government have contributed to Merton facing a challenge to find £15m in savings over the next few years but the council is determined to continue its business-like approach and to focus its remaining funding on those most in need. So far, Merton has identified a third of the £15 million in savings needed to balance the budget. But this figure may increase following a further announcement expected by the Chancellor in December.
The proposed £5 million savings identified so far were presented to cabinet for consideration before going to the council’s cross-party scrutiny panel for comment. After they have been carefully reviewed by Scrutiny, the proposals will come back to cabinet and then onto full council in March where the final budget proposals will be agreed.
Leader of the council, Councillor Stephen Alambritis said: “These are very tough times and we will continue to take a business-like approach in planning our finances and rigorously explore the most cost effective ways to deliver services to our residents.
“Although we are being forced to make savings in all areas of the council, we are committed to ensuring our children, young people and vulnerable adults take a lesser share of the cuts than other areas of the council.”
Notes to editors
- In its annual residents’ survey, more residents than ever before have told the council that it is well-run and efficient.
- Residents are less worried about council tax increases than they have ever been, a reflection of the council’s good planning and business-like approach which has enabled it to freeze council tax for the last five years and absorb the government’s council tax benefit cut.
- The council has already put into action a number of cost effective ways to deliver its services such as sharing with other councils, including our audit, legal, trading standards, licensing and environmental health services. This type of initiative saves money and increases the pool of expertise available. The council is also in the process of commissioning services, such as parks management and waste collection in partnership with neighbouring councils which will not only save money but will make these services more resilient to future financial cuts that are made outside the council’s control.
- While the council needs to make savings to balance its ever diminishing budget it recognises that these are tough times for many and wants to be as fair as possible to everyone when considering next year’s budget. This is why the cabinet is determined to freeze council tax for a sixth year running, so more money remains in residents’ pockets and to ensure the most vulnerable in the borough take less of a share of the cuts.