Last night (Wednesday 2 March), a special meeting of Merton’s Full Council approved its budget for 2022/23. The financial plan for the year, which is worth £579 million, keeps vital services running in the face of dwindling resources from central government, contains measures to assist with the cost of living crisis, and seeks to deliver on residents’ priorities that were identified in the Merton 2030 consultation.
Just like local households, the council is facing increased costs this year, but this budgetary pressure is made worse by the fact that funding from central government has been almost halved since 2010. So, whilst Council Tax accounts for only around 20% of our funding, the 2.99% increase agreed tonight will help to fund many vital services that would otherwise have been at risk.
Even though Council Tax is going up, the majority of households in the borough will end up paying less this year than they did last year. This is because the majority of households in bands A-D will receive a rebate of £150, which is greater than the value of the rise. Additionally, the council are investing £10.3 million into their Council Tax Support system to once again give a 100% reduction to claimants from lower-income households, despite the Government cutting funding for that particular benefit.
Despite financial pressures, the budget for 2022/23 has allocated millions of pounds to deliver on residents’ priorities. During the Merton 2030 consultation, the widest-reaching community engagement programme in the council’s history, respondents said that one of the best things about living in Merton is the fantastic access to parks and green spaces. This year, the council have committed £2.58 million to the upkeep of these incredible public assets. There’s also £60,000 that’s been invested in the tree planting programme for greener, healthier streets.
Another priority identified was investment in in local highstreets. This budget has allocated £200,000 of capital spending towards improvements in Morden town centre. Additionally, streets are being made safer with new and upgraded CCTV, and there is £50,000 for the ‘designing out crime’ programme, which aims to change the urban environment to make our communities safer. Pedestrians will also receive a boost, with £1 million being allocated to the upkeep of our borough’s footways.
Residents also said that they wanted a renewed focus on keeping Merton clean. Overall, the council are spending £15.45 million to empty bins, tackle fly-tipping and littering, and process recycling. There is also an extra £400,000 investment this year for street cleaning.
Other highlights from the budget include:
- £2.66 million this year, as part of a multi-year investment to provide increased capacity in our educational provision for children with Special Educational Needs.
- £63.75 million on providing social care for older people, and adults with learning or physical disabilities.
- £3.21 million on running our seven public libraries, our online library services, and our Heritage and Local Studies Centre
- £3.86 million on tackling homelessness, providing homes to those in need, and upholding standards in private rented homes
- £24.25 million for our Children’s Social Care and Youth Inclusion service to support, protect and care for over 2,000 vulnerable or disadvantaged children and young people.
- £1.62 for Safer Merton, our team focussed on reducing violent crime, anti-social behaviour and incidences of hate in our borough
- £5,195,000 on Freedom Passes to provide free travel for older people and those with a disability
- £290,000 on installing environmentally friendly LED streetlights
Councillor Mark Allison, Leader of Merton Council, said: “Despite 12 years of cuts in government funding, here in Merton we’ve seen rising school results, a new library and a new leisure centre, and welcomed AFC Wimbledon back to their home in the borough. During COVID-19 residents have also come to appreciate the amazing parks and open spaces we have here in Merton even more.
“The budget that we’ve passed will build on these achievements by delivering on the priorities of Merton residents. Merton 2030, our community-led plan for the borough, will act as our roadmap to make the improvements that our residents wanted to see, backed by millions of pounds worth of funding.”
Councillor Owen Pritchard, Merton’s Joint Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance, Performance, Recovery and the Local Economy, said: “The cost of living crisis is hammering families up and down the country, and Merton is certainly no exception. I’m delighted that, as a result of this budget, we’ll be protecting those from the lowest-income households from rising bills by fully funding our Council Tax Support Scheme once again. Additionally, most households will keep more in their pocket than they did last year, as a result of the £150 repayment.”
“Balancing our budget in the face of 12 years’ worth of underfunding from the Government was not easy, but tonight we’ve delivered a budget which will keep vital services – from Adult Social Care, to libraries, to tackling homelessness – running for another year.”