NEW News from Merton Council
Sound financial management during the period of Government austerity has resulted in money being available to invest into services for families across Merton, after the council agreed its annual budget.
The council’s business-like approach to long-term financial management has already seen it protect many services in recent years – such as libraries, where councils across the country have closed them down.
The council was recently praised by the national Local Government Association, which attributed good financial management as the reason the council is in the rare position of being able to invest in services despite annual funding reductions which have taken around 60% of its budget away.
Agreeing the council’s budget for next year, councillors signed off on:
- Nearly £4m a year extra for children’s services, helping protect and care for vulnerable children;
- Almost £1m extra a year for the borough’s refuse service, including more to tackle growing scourge of fly-tipping;
- £150k a year more for emergency planning, ahead of Grenfell Tower recommendations which will impact councils this year;
- Disciplined financing includes £2.4m a year being saved on the cost of council pensions;
However, the effect of austerity and funding cuts is still a constant issue, meaning a balance has had to be found:
- A 1.99% council tax increase is still needed, plus 2% for the government’s “adult social care precept” in line with Government expectations.
- £16m a year savings will be implemented by 2023, and a further gap of £9m a year still needs to be filled after that;
- There is a huge shortfall in government funding for children with special needs – council has set aside a further £37m, but the cost could rise to £65m;
Overall, the budget is focused on making Merton a great place for families – with investment into family-orientated services during a year in which its new secondary school building will open, not long after the opening of a new leisure centre last year and a new library before that.
Council tax will rise in line with almost all other councils, with Merton’s element increasing by 1.99% from 1 April 2020, which is below increase in the cost of living (RPI inflation rate in January was 2.7%).
Merton will also collect an additional 2% for the government’s adult social care precept, which will be spent on services for older people or those with disabilities.
There have been complaints, however, about the level of financial uncertainty facing the council as a result of government decisions. Funding from the government has only been secured for one year, and no decision has been made on how much of the government’s income from Business Rates will be given back to the council from 2021 onwards.
The council still does not know if it will be reimbursed by the government for the full cost of providing education to children with special needs, and has set aside a further £37m in case it is not paid, although the full cost could be more than £65m.
Supporting the budget, the Deputy Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Finance, Cllr Mark Allison said: “Since 2010, our aim has been to make Merton a great place for families, but thanks to austerity and cuts to the grants we receive it hasn’t been easy.’’
“That’s why we have sought to run Merton’s finances in a disciplined and business like way. Nowadays we budget for the medium-term over four years rather than just one, and that has helped us to plan ahead. As a result, we’re able to deliver better services.
“We’ve already opened a new leisure centre, and our new school’s buildings will be open in September. Now we’re able to provide an extra £5 million for children’s services over the medium term financial strategy, at a time when, thanks to our decisions, Merton’s state schools are achieving their best ever results – in the top three in the country. And that’s on top of keeping all our libraries running, and even opening a new one in Colliers Wood.
“We’re not out of the woods yet though, and there is even more uncertainty than usual. We’re having to set aside an additional £37 million to educate children with disabilities and special needs, something it’s actually government’s responsibility to pay for. If they did the decent thing we could do so much more.’’
“We’ve budgeted nearly an extra million pounds for the street cleaning and refuse service, including more to tackle the growing scourge of fly-tipping. But if the government treated us right, we would be able to do so much more to help us ensure our community remains a great place.”
Following the confirmation of a case of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) in the borough this week at Wimbledon College, we will be using this page to provide links, signposting and information for residents who may be concerned.
It is important that we keep the outbreak in perspective – the largest risk is to older people, and those with existing medical conditions affecting their immune system need to take more precautions.
The council is closely following Public Health England guidance to ensure we provide consistent advice and signposting. You may find the links below helpful.
We will update this page with any latest news, so please check back here for information about schools and council services.
LOCAL LINKS AND INFORMATION
Our statement on the confirmed case of COVID-19 among a member of teaching staff at Wimbledon College.
Parents of pupils at the college can follow the latest updates here.
The Department of Health and Social Care updates it’s twitter feed at 2pm each day.
The latest information from the NHS and Public Health about containing the spread, and what to do if you feel unwell
The latest on the national; picture, and signposting advice to NHS services
FURTHER INFORMATION ON SPECIFIC ISSUES
A list of frequently asked questions and answers
Details on how contact tracing works
What you need to know about self-isolation and what it involves
Guidance and advice for those travelling and living overseas
Merton Council has been able to offer nearly 90 per cent of schoolchildren a place at one of their top three secondary school choices, and 94 per cent have been offered a place at one of their preferred schools.
Every Merton family who applied for a secondary place, starting this September, has been offered a place. The majority of applicants are set to join one of the borough’s secondary schools which are all rated ‘Outstanding’ or ‘Good’ by Ofsted.
Figures revealed today show that 88 per cent of Merton children have been offered a place in one of their top three preferred secondary schools, which is an increase compared to last year. Two-thirds of Merton children were offered a place at their first-choice secondary school and 94 per cent a place at one of their six preferences.
After the unprecedented increase in applications for secondary school places for September 2019, demand for places remains just as high this year for the borough’s schools. Across London there was a 2 per cent decrease in the number of applications made for secondary school places compared to last year.
Merton was recently confirmed to be in the top three in the country for the progress pupils make between the ages of 11-16 in the Government’s Progress 8 scores based on schools’ GCSE results.
The council has been able to deliver sufficient places in this period of extra demand due to the opening of the new Harris Academy Wimbledon, which is scheduled to move to its new permanent site in South Wimbledon in September.
Merton Council’s Cabinet Member for Schools and Adult Education, Councillor Eleanor Stringer said: “We are delighted to be able to offer all Merton children a school place on offer day, and places for so many children at their preferred secondary schools, despite increased demand for school places over the past few years.
“Merton is a great place for families and a key reason for this is the first-class learning opportunities we have in the borough. We are hugely proud of the dedicated work at our secondary schools to ensure all pupils achieve their potential and are set up for great futures.
“Merton secondary schools are already in the top three in the whole country for the progress teenagers make, and we are committed to continue our work to further enhance the education offered for every Merton child.”
The council is reminding families that they do need to respond to secondary school offers of places by Monday 16 March and to visit its website School Admissions pages if they require further guidance on securing school places.
Joint statement with Public Health England following confirmed case of coronavirus at Wimbledon College
Joint statement from Public Health England and Merton Council on confirmed COVID-19 case at Wimbledon College, Merton
Dr Yvonne Young, consultant in communicable disease control, PHE London, said: “Public Health England is contacting people who had close contact with one of the latest confirmed cases of COVID-19. The case is a member of staff at Wimbledon College, and became infected whilst in Italy. Close contacts will be given health advice about symptoms and emergency contact details to use if they become unwell in the 14 days after contact with the confirmed case. This tried and tested method will ensure we are able to minimise any risk to them and the wider public.
“We have been in discussion with Wimbledon College which has taken the decision to close as a number of staff are self-isolating due to being close contacts of this confirmed case. My team have assessed the risk and confirmed that there is currently no information to suggest that there is an increased health risk to any pupils or their families at the college and no recommendation for them to self-isolate. We will update the college and parents if the situation changes in any way.”
Director of Public Health for Merton Council, Dagmar Zeuner, said: “I’d like to reassure people that the risk to the general public remains low and Merton Council is working with health colleagues to do everything we can to stop the virus spreading and ensure the people of Merton are protected.
“If you have not been contacted by Public Health England as a close contact of the confirmed case you do not need to take any action at this time.
“Good hygiene is the best prevention and there are some simple steps you can take to protect you and your family by washing your hands regularly and thoroughly and if you cough, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue.
“If you have recently been to one of the affected areas and are feeling unwell, you should phone the NHS 111 helpline for further advice straight away – please don’t go to your doctor or a hospital. There’s lots of advice on how people can protect themselves online at www.nhs.uk/coronavirus”
Notes to Editors
- Merton Council, PHE and the NHS are well prepared to deal with coronavirus. Our priority is to safeguard local communities which sometimes involves taking preventative measures to help reduce the risk of further cases.
- To date more than 11,750 people have been tested with 35 positive cases. We advise people to follow the advice being issued by PHE, NHS and local authorities.
- We cannot comment further on individual cases due to patient confidentiality.
- Details on testing are published daily at 2pm and includes a breakdown of negative and positive tests www.gov.uk/guidance/wuhan-novel-coronavirus-information-for-the-public
- For more information and advice on coronavirus (COVID-19)
Merton Council’s Cabinet last night gave the go-ahead to demolish and re-build Bishopsford Bridge following its partial collapse into the River Wandle following heavy rainfall last June.
Work is now set to start within weeks with the aim of re-opening it to traffic as quickly and safely as possible with demolition is due to start in March – April with work starting in the summer to build the new bridge with completion set for the spring of 2021.
Prior to rebuilding, a consultation on the design of the new bridge will be held with local residents and businesses as a new bridge requires planning permission along with ecological surveys as it is located in a conservation area.
The replacement of the bridge has been a complex process due to the fact it contributes to river flow and has a range of utilities running through the structure – including gas pipes and broadband cabling. We also require permission from the Environment Agency for undertaking work on the bridge
Even removing the damaged parts of the structure will need to be partly done by hand, to avoid further safety risks and to ensure the remaining utilities are not damaged.
Merton Council’s Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Housing and Transport, Councillor Martin Whelton, said: “I completely understand the considerable frustration of residents and businesses in the area over the length of closure and we are doing everything possible to speed up the process of re-opening it.
“As a council we have had to assess the structural damage caused by the collapse and the potential engineering solutions to get it re-opened again which has taken longer than hoped.
“We are determined to get it open as soon as possible which is why we are committed to a £2.7 million investment in the local infrastructure which involves re-building the bridge rather than opting for a quick-fix solution which may have meant further work having to be carried out in a few years’ time causing further disruption.
“Any work of this nature is very complex due to utilities running through the bridge, along with the fact that the Environment Agency also needs to agree any proposals due to flooding risk.
“As a council we are also committed to working with residents and businesses during the rebuilding and will be publishing regular newsletter updates on progress along with consulting local residents about the design of the new bridge.”
Around 600 businesses across Mitcham, Morden, Colliers Wood and Wimbledon are poised to benefit from having their business rates cut in half as part of the Council’s scheme to support the local economy and retail businesses.
The money-saving Business Rate Relief Discount, which the council can award to reduce the financial burden on businesses with a lower rateable value, will see retailers, music venues and cinemas all get a 50% discount on their business rates in 2020. The Council’s decision-making Cabinet agreed proposals for the scheme to benefit businesses on Monday evening.
In a further move to delight landlords, around 30 pubs in the area also stand to have £1,000 taken off their business rate bills, after the re-introduction of the Government’s Pub Relief scheme. To qualify for the Pub Relief the rateable value of the premises has to be up to £100,000.
Merton Council Leader, Councillor Stephen Alambritis said: “Even on their own, both these schemes offer practical savings to the small businesses that we want to thrive in the borough.
“Taken together, they show that establishing and running a business here is good financial sense – with support guaranteed from the local council to reduce the burden to smaller firms and retailers, which need our support. We’re very keen to push this decision through as quickly as possible so we can get on with applying the discounts.”
To qualify for the Council’s rate relief scheme, the ratepayer must be in occupation of a property with a rateable value under £51,000. The discount is available to a host of business types, from shops and kiosks to garden centres, dry cleaners, hair salons and restaurants.
You can find out more about the scheme here:
Merton Council is encouraging residents to apply to close their road for a street party on 8, 9 or 10 May in celebration of the 75th anniversary of VE Day. The anniversary of the end of World War Two in Europe after five years of carnage and destruction will be an opportunity to both celebrate peace as well as mourn all those that died in the war.
In May 1945, millions of people up and down the country took to the streets and pubs to celebrate peace, mourn their loved ones and to hope for the future, and it’s hoped that this spirit can be recreated at this year’s street parties.
Events to mark the anniversary are set to sweep the nation after the Government moved the early May bank holiday to Friday 8 May to honour the occasion. As well as the street parties, planned activities include traditional tunes played by pipers, a collective toast in pubs across the country, a coordinated ringing of church bells for peace and religious ceremonies of celebration and commemoration. A listing of events both locally and nationally can be found at www.veday75.org
For more information on how to apply to close your road for a street party, visit www.merton.gov.uk/streetparties. The deadline for submitting an application is 24 April 2020.
Councillor Dennis Pearce, Merton Council’s Armed Forces Champion, said, “VE Day was one of the most momentous days of the 20th century, and it’s only right that we both celebrate the lasting peace that followed it as well as commemorate all those that gave their lives in the five years before.
“The 75th anniversary will provide our nation, and our friends around the world, with an opportunity to reflect on the enormous sacrifice, courage and determination of people from all walks of life, including the ancestors of many local families, who saw us through the dark and terrifying period that came before VE Day.
“We welcome the fact that the early May bank holiday has been moved to mark the anniversary and we’d encourage all residents to get involved with the weekend’s schedule of events. One of the best ways to get involved is to get together with your neighbours and organise a street party. After WW2 ended, celebrations like these erupted up and down the country, and it would be fantastic to capture that jubilance and sense of community 75 years later on the streets of our borough.”
Councillors will next week be asked to approve the demolition and rebuild of Bishopsford Road bridge, following the partial collapse during heavy rainfall and river flooding in June last year.
A range of options to reopen the bridge are being put to the council’s decision-making Cabinet on Monday 24 February, with the recommendation to pull the structure down and build a completely new one in its place.
If approved, work will begin on site in March to remove the broken parts of the bridge and pre-build work including ecological assessments will take place. Main construction would then start by May and aim to be completed by Spring 2021.
Subject to the Cabinet decision, the council will also be publishing a detailed timetable of works to keep residents informed, as well as posting regular updates on the council’s Twitter and Facebook accounts.
Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Housing and Transport, Councillor Martin Whelton, said: “Reopening the bridge to all vehicles is a high priority for the council and it has been working hard, with its partners, to do this and mitigate the impact of its closure.
“I completely understand the frustration of the past eight months while structural assessments have been carried out, but it has been important to undertake that work to ensure a safe repair or rebuild can take place.
“Having done those assessments, we are determined to move forward as quickly as possible and get the bridge reopened.”
The Cabinet will take the decision at its meeting on Monday February 24.
NOTES FOR EDITORS
Read the full report here:
For updated information on Bishopford Bridge work, visit:
Many thousands of EU nationals based in Merton have applied to remain in the UK under the European Union Settlement Scheme (EUSS), but Merton Council reports that there are still many more who are yet to start the process.
Government figures show that as of 31 December 24,200 Merton residents had submitted an EUSS application and, of these, 21,660 have been concluded. However, after consulting local community groups, the council believes that there are still many people who are eligible for the EUSS who are yet to apply in particular vulnerable citizens such as older people and non-EEA nationals.
The council is urging all residents from EU countries and eligible non-EEA nationals who want to stay in the UK to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme as soon as possible. The government have said that all EU nationals must apply for Settled Status to keep their right to remain in the country and secure their rights to vote, get free medical care and welfare benefits.
EU nationals carry out many important jobs that benefit the borough’s economy and have close personal relationships with British citizens living in the borough. The council is therefore concerned about the impact on the local community if many of them do not receive full settled status.
In an effort to increase the number making successful applications, the council has commissioned specialist services to give residents free support and advice on the scheme. Residents can access free help to make EUSS applications from Citizens Advice Merton and Lambeth, South West London Law Centres or the Association for Polish Family.
The council is also appealing for local employers, the voluntary sector, schools and colleges to encourage any EU or eligible non-EEA nationals in their networks to apply. Whilst there are high profile campaigns both locally and nationally to raise awareness of the EUSS, many will only hear about it through word of mouth.
The deadline to apply is 30 June 2021, but the council is flagging up that this could be brought forward depending on the outcome of negotiations with the EU. If the UK does not strike a deal with EU before the end of the transition period the government have said that no new applications will be accepted after 31 December 2020.
Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance, Councillor Mark Allison, said: “Many of our friends and neighbours may have been born outside Merton, but they’ve put down roots and helped to make this a great place for families. We want them to continue to contribute, and as a business-like council we are doing all we can to encourage our residents and employees who are EU nationals to fill out the paperwork so that they can enjoy living here with their families.
“It’s fantastic news that so many of our European friends, neighbours and family members are choosing to stay in our community after Brexit, but we are gravely concerned that, unless more of them apply for the EUSS, our communities will be broken up.
“We don’t want our neighbours and loved ones to lose the right to remain here, their right to vote or their rights to free medical care and welfare benefits and are offering free specialist advice services to support those who need help with their application.
“They have helped make our borough a great place for everyone to live in, and it is only right that we are here to help them when they need it too.”
- Full details on the numbers of EUSS applications can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/eu-settlement-scheme-quarterly-statistics-december-2019
- For access help and advice, residents can contact Citizens Advice Merton by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org calling 020 8687 9297
- There is no fee for applications to the EU Settlement Scheme
The figure of 24,200 applicants represents a 63% increase over a three month period from September–December 2019.