Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Merton Full Council meeting

Wednesday night saw the last full council of the year and a number of successes for the Labour opposition against the minority Merton Tory administration.

With the support of Merton Park Residents, a Conservative motion on older people was successfully amended (30-29). More significantly, a motion condemning the recent stock transfer letter was passed, on the motion the Tories decided not to vote knowing that they were going to lose. The meeting was full self-justification for the letter from Cabinet member Cllr Diane Neil-Mills. The letter also received strong condemnation from Cllr Peter Southgate leader of the Merton Park Residents for bypassing scrutiny.

The motion passed was as follows.

This Council regrets that the letter sent to housing tenants entitled 'The future of the Council’s housing stock', ostensibly to warn tenants that the matter was to be
reconsidered, also argued the case in favour housing stock transfer:

(i) in apparent contradiction of a Cabinet decision of 13th June 2005;
(ii) before the issue had been discussed in Cabinet or Scrutiny; and
(iii) purported to present a 'Council' view on the issue of housing stock transfer.

The effect of this letter has been to pre-empt the proper involvement of scrutiny and
place ward councillors in a difficult position.
This Council expresses its concern at the approach taken and states its determination
not to allow such pre-emption in future.

This was the first meeting that was not 30-30, as one Conservative councillor was absent and a number of Tories including cabinet member Tariq Ahmad turned up late.

The questions brought a number of interesting responses. On allowances, Cllr David Williams did not rule out a significant increase in allowances which in certain cases could be a 100% rise for a Cabinet member with total allowance being increased from £15,000 a year including special responsibility allowance to £40,000 a year as recommended by the London Council report.

In terms of the allocation of resources question, Cllr David Williams defended the remarks of Stephen Hammond MP of an unfair allocation of resources to the east of the borough (which means Mitcham) at the expense of Wimbledon. Completely untrue, but given their lack of representation in the east of the borough, an unsurprising remark.

Also it seems that the previous campaign for St Helier is not much of a priority for the minority Conservative administration. In a written response from David Williams little support was given by the minority administration for the Council's previous support under the former Labour administration to refer to the Secretary of State the decision to site the Critical Care hospital at Sutton Hospital (miles away from Merton Borough and in a very affluent part of Sutton). The whole initiative was described by David Williams as "an initiative inspired by Siobhain McDonagh"(another misleading statement as the then Labour controlled Merton Council scrutiny commission referred the matter to the Secretary of Stare) it is clear that if they had been in power nothing would have been done and they would be backing up their Tory colleagues in Surrey on the site of the critical care hospital.

In terms of the motions, I seconded the amendment on the GLA powers motion but it was lost as the residents backed the Tories. In Merton, the Tories would prefer that housing powers remain with the Government office for London instead of being under the democratic control of the mayor. Most of the claims the Tories were making were complete nonsense. The whole motion was a Tory model motion circulated round the boroughs and part of their campaign to oust Ken campaign in 2008. After thei dismal failure of the tories to find a candidate first time round (or none of sufficient calibre) they are still searching. They also had a question on Ken Livingstone's last visit to Merton from Tory Henry Nelless, it was stated, as 2003 but I know he has been in the Borough many times since and was in Merton earlier in 2006.

With us deciding to spring a surprise on the Tories by withdrawing a motion on Council budget powers (and the Tories had even prepared an amendment) the meeting finished half an hour early.


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