Thursday, September 20, 2007

September Merton Council meeting

The September Council meeting last night saw a number of issues being debated with the main topic of being health.

Following on from the recent announcement that the Better Healthcare Closer to Home proposals had been abandoned, the Tories on Merton Council tabled a motion basically condemning the new proposals along with calling for a delay. The new proposals for St Helier were condemned by the Tories and described as 'lick of paint’; this is despite the new proposals containing a substantial amount of re-build and the large scale modernisation of the hospital. In his speech to Council, David Williams the Tory leader condemned the decision of the then Labour controlled council for calling in the decision to locate the Critical Care Hospital at Sutton Hospital. According to David Williams this “had damaged the credibility of the whole programme”. An attack was also made on Siobhain McDonagh about her campaigning to save St Helier and opposing the Better Healthcare Closer to Home proposals.

The motion was quite frankly misleading, the Tories back in 2005 did not oppose the referral from Merton (well not publicly anyway!). If health chiefs had their way St Helier would now be well on the way to closure with service located to a new hospital miles away from the area of highest health inequality in the St Helier and Epsom Trust area. I have no doubt that if the Tories had been running Merton Council in 2005 very little opposition would've been voiced to the Sutton proposals, indeed they would probably have been sympathetic to their Tory colleague and ex Merton colleague Chris Grayling in ensuring that middle class area with least health needs benefited (which rules out Mitcham). Thanks to the work of Siobhain Mc Donagh, St Helier will be remaining on its present site and the Wilson in Mitcham should be re-opened as a local care hospital after being shut down under the Tories. The motion was passed by two votes against Labour opposition with the Labour motion welcoming the vote similarly defeated by two votes (Merton Park residents abstained).

In terms of the forthcoming budget it was announced that 'nothing is safe'. David Williams refused to withdraw his recent remarks about 'special interest groups holding council taxpayers to ransom' which seemed to be made in response to campaigners who want to save All Saints which is under threat from the Tories in the budget. Indeed my colleague Mark Allison was described as 'vindictive' by David Williams in calling for the remarks to be withdrawn. Many service users are rightfully concerned about this valuable service, if this had been a Labour administration it would not cut and would’ve have been ruled out by now. Under the Tories everything is up for grabs and with £14 million proposed savings they could be particularly savage. In a speech Cllr Margaret Brierly said 'the cost of running the All Saints centre is enormous and to a few people', not very encouraging though the old mantra 'no proposals at this moment'was wheeled out. Proposals on the budget are likely to be made next month and they are awaited with interest.

On one motion relating to the 'Merton Rule', the residents joined with the Labour group and an amendment to the Tory motion was passed on the casting vote of the Labour Mayor John Dehaney (the only time he voted). This was a motion about recent speculation that the Government was to drop the requirement contained in the Merton Rule (a policy pioneered by the then Labour council and continued under the Tories) which requires the use of renewable energy onsite to reduce annual carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the built environment.

On wheelie bins the Conservatives again gave a lukewarm response to their introduction claiming they 'had not been ruled out' and that it was under review, this is despite widespread support for their introduction in Merton. In the recently published 2007 Merton residents survey it shows a drop of 4% in refuse service satisfaction. Currently the recycling rates for the Council are also flat lining and if their failure to increase them will inevitably lead to higher charges for council taxpayers.

Finally, the member allowance scheme was extended to May 2008(it expired at the end of the month as it was a four year scheme). This is likely to be a contentious issue when it returns to Council and it's widely believed that the Tories want to implement recommendations that could see allowances for some councillors go up over 100%.


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