Merton Council announced this evening at full council (2 March 2016) that it has frozen council tax for the sixth year running, as members agreed and balanced the budget for 2016-17.
The balanced budget means residents will benefit from the council freezing the Merton element of their council tax for the sixth year in a row. For the fourth year running, the council has committed to absorbing the government’s 2012 reduction in council tax support, ensuring residents on low incomes continue to receive the same amount of council tax support as in previous years. In a new move, the council has also created a £1.3 million fund to help the most vulnerable in Merton.
With local authorities facing 40% cuts in funding from central government, the council has had to make difficult financial decisions across all its services to ensure that the most vulnerable in the borough take a smaller share of the cuts. Its decision to freeze council tax despite the reduction in central government funding, was to ensure the budget is as fair as possible for the majority of people in the borough.
Continuing its business-like approach to making services more financially resilient to future funding decisions that are outside its control and to ensure funds are available for those in most need, the council has set up a new £1.3 million fund which will allow it to reduce the effect of cuts to the most vulnerable in Merton. The fund is available to be added to in future years and is there because Merton has generated extra money through building new homes.
Despite these challenging times, the council is still able to keep its award-winning libraries open and is building brand new libraries for Colliers Wood and West Barnes. It is also maintaining weekly waste collections and is investing in Morden and Mitcham to create vibrant and economically successful town centres where people will want to live, work and spend their leisure time.
Another success story is the provision of a new family leisure centre in Morden Park for 2018, which, through good financial planning, has already been built into the budget. The council is also looking to build a new secondary school in Wimbledon, to accommodate the growing number of children wanting a Merton secondary education.
Merton Council’s cabinet member for finance, Councillor Mark Allison said: “We all know these are very challenging times for local government as central government continues to cut our funding year after year. We have proved ourselves to be a resilient council because of our business-like approach. We have been able to freeze council tax and, at the same time, generate a fund that will be used to help the more vulnerable in our borough. And we can still look forward to a new leisure centre, new school buildings and new libraries as we work to ensure best value for money for our taxpayers.
“Raising council tax would have been the easy option. Times are hard for many Merton families, especially as wages aren’t keeping pace with house prices and rents. Many families are having to make their own decisions on where they spend their money. We have to do the same and as a council we also have a duty to ensure the budget is balanced in as fair a way as possible. So by freezing council tax, we are keeping money in people’s pockets which they can spend on their families – one less thing they have to worry about.”