Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Merton Tories Caught Out Again

Thanks to Chris McKeown who has passed on a rebuttal by the Merton Park Independents on the latest leaflet to be circulated around Merton Park by the Conservatives. Sitting in the council chamber, I regularly hear the vilification meted out against the Merton Park Independents at council meetings especially by Cllr Richard Hilton who described them as "puppets".

The allegations made by the Tories are untrue and the Independents do make up their mind on an issue by issue basis. In the last council they voted most of the time with the Conservatives, much the consternation of the Labour Group. Despite their nasty campaign against them at the last election, the Merton Park Independents massively increased their majority over the Conservatives. After 22 years of electing Independents the Tories have repeatedly failed to win back Merton Park ward despite their best endeavours. They show no sign of winning it back anytime soon.

Merton Tories Caught Out Again by Chris McKeown
In Local Government, Tory Myths, UK Politics, Wimbledon on July 24, 2011 at 8:03 pm

Yesterday I received a leaflet from Merton’s Tories viciously attacking the Merton Park Independents (my ward’s three councillors upon whom Labour rely for their control of the council). Today, I received a copy of an email from the Independents refuting all of the allegations. Read on, it’s fairly damning:

Dear Resident,

As you know, we distribute email alerts to keep residents up to date on important local issues. We don’t believe you want to hear too much about party political posturing in the Council Chamber. However, you may have received a flyer from Merton Conservatives accusing your Independent Ward Councillors of failing to represent your interests. A number of residents have contacted us querying its accuracy. The simple response is that the claims are inaccurate and expose some muddled thinking. They are crudely made but require rather longer to refute. If you don’t want to read more then by all means “Look away now” but if you want to contrast reality with the allegations contained in the Conservative flyer then read on . . .

There are six bullet point arguments contained in the flyer, each of them short, pithy and misleading. They tell you that “Your Independent Councillors

“voted to abolish the free garden waste collection”

With just cause: this year’s Council Budget, which had to reduce spending by £26 million, removed the free garden waste collection. It was replaced by a paid-for service which began a few weeks ago. The previous service was costing £227,000 a year and collected 1,700 tonnes of garden waste from fewer than 14,000 properties (about 1 in 5 of the total in Merton) of which only a few thousand were regular users. It was not a statutory service (i.e. one they have to provide) and it seemed fairer to charge these households directly for collection than to subsidise it out of council tax. We know that many users are willing to pay for the service. In our current residents’ questionnaire on Council Services several residents have expressed the opinion that they would favour a paid for service. And across the Borough over 2000 households have already signed up for it. To be sure, the introduction could have been handled better by the administration. Preparatory work to plan a paid-for service was in hand in January and despite your Councillors urging all speed to have a replacement service in place to allow a smooth transition, there was a hiatus which we know caused considerable inconvenience to some residents.

“voted to extend controlled parking, against your wishes”

Not true: your Ward Councillors voted for a consultation. The Council Budget includes a provision for an extension of CPZ restrictions to Saturdays. But the Conservatives themselves acknowledged in a previous flyer that any extension is explicitly subject to full consultation which can take up to six months. As you will know, we have been critical of the operation of the CPZ in the past and steered an amendment through Council over a year ago to cap CPZ charges and reintroduce the half day visitor permit (proposals that the Conservative administration actually tried to vote down). We are still waiting for the officers to announce their consultation plans. Not only will we be fully engaged in the consultation process; we shall be conducting our own surveys to ensure your opinions are fully represented.

“voted for wheelie bins costing over £4 million, despite 75% of you telling them you didn’t want them”

Not true: your Ward Councillors have not voted for wheelie bins. During the council debate on the issue, Merton’s Conservatives put forward a motion that your councillors could not vote for because it was misleading. In the debate, Cllr John Sargeant, who chaired the cross-party Task Group into Wheelie Bins, pointed out the logical flaws in their motion. For example, while the motion called for all the Task Group recommendations to be accepted, it also called for an immediate roll-out of food waste collections to every home in the Borough, which the Task Group, with its two Conservative members fully on board, expressly recommended against. (For the full text of John’s speech, click on the attachment.)

The three other issues in the flyer relate back to the debate on the Council Budget passed in March. Without being explicit, they simply refer to school standards, front line services and back office costs. Faced with the reality of less money, and more cuts to come, it is all too easy to decry the loss of some services. We could have followed the Conservative approach to spend an additional £1.7million beyond our means (equivalent to 2% on Council Tax) to postpone necessary cuts. But that would merely have built up even greater problems for future years. Throughout the Budget discussions we sought outcomes that would balance the budget while protecting the most vulnerable residents.

Many thanks to those of you who have contacted us to query the accuracy of these allegations. You are right to be sceptical. We, for our part, will continue to provide you with the facts, without spin or over-simplification. We are always keen to hear your views.

So, Merton’s Tories are at it again, deliberately misinterpreting the facts instead of actually doing their jobs.


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