Monday, November 20, 2006

Overview and Commission Meeting

The end of another long night at the Civic Centre with this time the meeting lasting till 10-45 at night.

The main item discussed tonight was the proposed Budget for next year. This meeting discussed the various recommendations made by the Panels last week. The proposed deletion of the Cabinet Secretary by the Way we Work Panel was again carried at the Commission on the casting vote of the Chair, Merton Park Resident Peter Southgate with the Tories voting against. A saving of £30,000.

However, the main budget issue was the proposed closure of the Bond Road Centre in Mitcham and it's replacement by Children Centres. While it has been stated previously by the Director Dave Hill that five of these centres will be up and running by April 2007, my colleague Maxi Martin today received an e-mail from the Head of Education at Merton Janet Martin(no relation) that "it is just possible one or two may open before 2008", not very optimistic at all and if it closed as planned in April 2007, it is unlikely that any children centre will have opened by then. No project plan as of yet has even been produced by the Council. In terms of the feasibility of the proposals, it is also likely that many of the children at Bond Road will require support assistants in mainstream provision, reducing any proposed savings. The argument for keeping the centre opened was outlined by my colleague Maxi Martin in a previous blog entry and nothing was said tonight that justified the closure of the Centre. At the meeting the motion moved by Labour members rejecting the closure was rejected by one vote with the Chair Peter Southgate abstaining. An alternative motion by Conservative Cllr Gill Lewis-Lavender who clearly had some concerns was passed which stated "We agree to this saving subject to an appropriate alternative being provided", the Labour group mainly abstained on this matter as clearly an alternative is unlikely to be provided by the closure date of April 2007 and we cannot agree to a cut that affects the most vulnerable of children.

In terms of other budget issues, the Panel wanted further information about £300,000 worth of savings in SEN Transport and doubt exists about whether this is a saving or transfer of cost to another Council department. The issue of SEN reviews which also brought up which would see the budget slashed by 40%(£135K) this was deferred as concern was expressed about the consultation process and this is seemingly not part of the Council SEN review. The New Year will no doubt see further debate on the issue as quite clearly the many holes in the Tory Budget are plain to see and that is without even scrutinising the Environmental Budget.

Apart from the Budget the other main issue was the recently published Housing letter about stock transfer. The Commission received a letter from Merton Park Resident Councillor Krysia Williams about recent issues at the Regeneration and Public Realm Panel and the controversial press release(see previous blog entries). A quite heated discussion involving Deputy Leader Sam George a;ong with her Tory colleagues on the panel(mainly Rod Scott) against the Labour members sought to justify this blatantly biased letter supporting stock transfer before it had even been considered by Council and scrutiny.

The Chair of the Commission Peter Southgate and a Merton Park colleague of Krysia Williams proposed a motion as follows "Where policy decisions coming forward will be subject to scrutiny and decision making by full Council, any press release and material shall be subject to approval by the three party leaders". This of course went down with a lead balloon with Sam George who attempted every trick in the book to try and get the motion stopped, it was passed on the casting vote of the Chair after the Labour members supported the motion. The motion rerecognised that we are a no overall control council with 30 administration members and 30 opposition. The issue is also to be discussed at full Council on Wednesday 29th November this should be another entertaining debate.


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