Thursday, July 13, 2006

Merton full Council report

Well last night saw the first meeting of Merton’s no overall control full council under a minority Tory administration and as expected it brought it's fair share of interesting moments, along with hearing about some of their latest plans and proposals..

I had commented previously on David Williams and the proposed new slogan that they are proposing to brand the Council ‘Putting you first’. This of course was also the title of the Conservative Party manifesto for the Merton Council local elections, the election in which they failed to win overall control. Bearing in mind their dismal performance in Mitcham, maybe ‘Putting Wimbledon first’ would have been more appropriate. Along with the political letter posted with a Merton logo and address on their website, it shows that they are more then prepared to use to Council for political purposes. The issue about the logo and phrase is being discussed further at cabinet next Monday and when they were challenged on this issue last night, they basically confessed that it is a blatantly political phrase and the catcalls from some tory councillors gave this away. Under the Tories, using political phrases on Council headed papers seems to be accepted practice.

The plans of David Williams to drop Merton as a name and rename the Borough Wimbeldon seems to have been dropped, obviously when the cost implications were pointed out, he soon realised it would have been pretty costly in view of all the Budget savings they needed to make. No doubt he was also advised that it required a 2/3rds majority of Council and with Labour holding 45% of the seats it will not happen.

Anyway, in terms of the Council, they have now stated up front that they are looking for a zero per cent rise in Council Tax. Coupled with savings that were required for next year's budget, this equates to another £1.7 million savings to be found. The target of the Labour group had been a rise of 2.5% if we had stayed in power and this was in line with our three year Council pledge of 2.5%. In terms of Merton Council implementing efficiency savings, we have had one of the best records in London along with investing extra in our key priorities.

The savings that the tories are seeking for Merton Council currently total £16 million, coupled with some of their spending pledges, it is unclear where they are going to find the money from especially as they have pledged to re-invest £3 Million in frontline services (definition still unclear in what they refer to). At the moment, they are also discussing budget reductions in secret which they refuse to reveal. Apart from the budget savings, they will also have to find over £1 Million to implement single status. this is the creation of a single pay scale between officers and manual workers, if they fail to implement single status it could potentially lead to costly equal pay claims.

In terms of my question on performance targets and Merton’s journey to excellence to David Williams, none of the recent statement to the Cabinet was refuted (see Cabinet entry in June) and indeed he decided at the meeting to pass the question on to Cabinet member Corinna Edge. Unfortunately for her she fluffed the question, she was clearly unaware that she was to answer the question and it seemed that it had been passed on by Cllr David Williams as he was clearly standing by his recent comments and was unwilling to defend his comments at Council.

On service outsourcing, Cllr Sam George stated that in house bids on contracts will still be accepted, though it remains to be seen whether this will happen. Apparently they have big plans to outsource services within the Council and one director has already advised staff that this is likely to happen.

On parking issues, little emerged from Cllr Tariq Ahmad answers to questions. The Borough wide parking permit (no doubt to allow people from Wimbledon Village to park in Wimbledon town centre when they go shopping or commute to London) has been little progressed. The nature of the consultation has not been revealed, but with parking being already being so difficult in the town centre, I am sure residents in the town will not appreciate spaces being taken up by the Village people. It will be interesting to see whether this proposal is quietly dropped. The moratorium on controlled parking schemes also seems not to be in effect, indeed it was not categorically stated in the answer to a question from Cllr Ian Munn. With Tariq Ahmad on the Tory A list and short listed in Hove, he may be spending less time soon on Merton Council business and more time in Hove.

An interesting question on housing was raised by former Pollards Hill councillor(now Lower Morden) Barbara Mansfield on one and two bedroom flats. Barbara is the only Tory councillor living in Mitcham, which shows the state of the Tory party in the area, along with their dismal failure to win any seats in the Mitcham area since her election for Pollards Hill in 1990. Since her time in Pollards Hill they have thankfully never elected another Tory councillor. The question she raised, gave a good indication towards the attitude of the Conservatives towards Mitcham, the reasoning behind the question is that Mitcham is going down the pan (it is not) and that the regeneration schemes we had developed for the area would continue this trend. Talking about Mitcham, it was interesting that Cllr Mansfield presented to Council a petition to Council on a housing development very near her home in Mitcham and an apparent interest in an area where she is not an elected councillor.

The Barbara Mansfield question provoked an interesting response from Cllr Diane Neil Mills. This is a newly elected councillor from Abbey ward who was appointed to the cabinet straight away, such was the paucity of talent in the Tory ranks. Basically she agreed with Barbara Mansfield’s observations. With sites being fairly limited, this will be difficult to implement. I also wondered whether it is in anyway connected to thinking that they are more likely to be Tory voters if the houses are bigger(a wrong assertion). If you think any developers will be building affordable family homes in Wimbledon then the numbers will be very small. While it is right that a mixture is built, in reality this will be difficult to achieve given the very limited number of sites to develop housing in the Borough and providing affordable housing under the Tories is likely to be a very low priority. One thing that is guaranteed, you will not be seeing much affordable housing appearing in Wimbledon, though we could always do with some more being built in Wimbeldon Village where Cllr Diane Neil Mills lives.

Turning now to the motions, we had a motion proposed by George Reynolds on the absence of a specific member for equality. The Labour motion proposed by George Reynolds was described by David Williams as an ‘offensive motion’. I have enclosed the text below and will allow people to judge for themsleves whether they believe this motion to be offensive.

This Council regrets the omission to appoint a Cabinet member with
specific responsibility for equalities and asks Councillor David Williams to
reflect on the issue and to correct the oversight by coming back to the next
full Council meeting with an amended list of Cabinet portfolios and
responsibilities which contains a Cabinet title with defined duties that does
justice to the diversity of the residents of the Borough.

A hastily drafted amendment was drawn up by the Tories and that the role should be filled by Councillor David Simpson as Lead member. The motion did not seek to add equality to the Cabinet title. In relation to lead members, advice was given from the Head of Leagl that they have no constitutional position. Unfortunately we lost the vote on the Tory amendment, though whether equality is given more then lip service remains to be seen. Just out of interest, the new Cabinet Member with responsibility for Equality failed to turn up at the Joint Consultative Committee with ethnic minorities organisations on Monday night claiming ‘he did not receive the invitation’, it seems that in the Tories haste to change the meeting dates that this was not noted in his diary. I understand that many representatives from ethnic minority organisations were not very impressed. When I could not attend a Licensing Committee a few months ago due to a clash meeting with a Governing body to discuss academy status, Cllr David Simpson seemed to get great joy out of my non-attendance.

In terms of the rest of the meeting, the Council passed an amendment thanking the authors of the Community Plan which was of course the outgoing Labour administration. We welcomed the Council commitment to the plan and the commitment of the minority Tory administration to implement Labour plans.

With regard to future meetings, we have the Cabinet meeting next Monday and if it is anything like it's first meeting it should provide another set of interesting quotes. Blogging4Merton will continue to report on this and other matters relating to Merton minority Tory administration.


Anonymous David Reeves said...

Just stumbled over your blog, thanks to Technorati search. Really interesting views, and a breath of fresh air to read such candid remarks from a politician. As a resident of Merton Park I shall be watching with great interest at the manoeuvres and tactics of my 3 independent councillors in the coming months as they come to terms with their new and unexpected role. Keep up the good work with this blog.

4:01 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:08 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

With Tariq on the Tory A list and short listed in Hove he may be spending less time soon on Merton Council business and more time in Hove" But a similar predicament did not prevent Leighton Veale from being re-elected in Longthornton did it?

4:22 pm  
Blogger Martin Whelton said...

In relation to the last comment, Leighton Veale was the only Labour councillor to stand for Parliament at the last election. He was not a member of the cabinet at the time. How many Tories stood? Tariq Ahmad, Sam George, Andrew Shellhorn, Fiona Bryce, Stephen Hammond. Five against one.

Hove is a key Tory target of the above only Stephen Hammond was standing in a key seat and that was Wimbledon in Merton. The other candidates above who were standing were not exactly standing in very marginal constituencies. Hove is 50 miles away and with it having a Labour majority under 500, Tariq will no doubt be expected to devote a great deal time to the seat. Last year when he stood in Croydon North, it was a seat that is pretty strong Labour.

4:38 pm  

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