Large scale cuts’ could be on the horizon for Merton Council as it faces a budget gap of more than £23m.
A stark warning was made at a cabinet meeting that cuts will have to be made if the council does not receive additional funding from central government.
Cabinet member for finance, councillor Mark Allison, said the council had so far spent £26m over the allotted government funding on the Covid-19 pandemic, nearly a quarter of the £99m it receives from council tax annually.
“I do have to warn everybody that what the business plan is talking about now is unprecedented cuts in the future if the government does not provide the funding," he said.
“These future savings in the next year are five times greater than we had anticipated before the pandemic, I think these are the biggest gaps in our funding we have ever had as a council.
“There may be cuts to the council on a very large scale and those may increase if in future years unemployment increases."
The financial strategy from 2021 to 2025 shows the council is forecasting a budget gap of £3.3m in 2021-22 and £6.9m in 2022-23.
Mr Allison said this year the council has managed to reduce costs by £3m by the beginning of the next financial year but will need to find £23m from elsewhere.
Director of corporate services at Merton Council, Caroline Holland, said a lot could change in the coming months adding even more pressure to the already stretched budget.
“This budget gap is very much linked to the recovery of the economy and how successful we are in dealing with a second wave.
“We have more than 30,000 residents who have been furloughed and we do not know how many will have jobs at the end of the furlough scheme.
"There could be impacts on our council tax support scheme, the local economy, our businesses which could have an impact on business rates.”
The council has £113m of debts, the majority of which is through loans of a fixed term of more than 15 years.
A report published in February shows the borough has significant reserves, ranked the 13th highest in London with £48.106m earmarked.
Farm 'overwhelmed' by donations
Deen City FarmCopyright: Deen City Farm
A south London farm has been "overwhelmed" by the response to a crowdfunding appeal to help sustain the animals during the coronavirus lockdown.
Last week the Deen City Farm, in Merton, launched an emergency fundraising appeal which has already raised nearly £22,000.
The farm has been closed to visitors during what is usually its busiest time of year as people come to see new born lambs.
Funds will be used to feed and look after the nearly 40 animals while the farm is closed.
Nick Golson, Manager of Deen City Farm, said: “We have been overwhelmed by the amazing response to our fundraising appeal.
"It has made us even more determined to make sure we can get through this difficult time and welcome everyone back to the farm as soon as we can.”
Parking charges in Merton are set to increase next month, but the council has been accused of having a lack of evidence that it will not improve air quality.
The new charges for public car parks, street parking and parking permits will be launched on 14 January, 2020.
It will see on street parking in Wimbledon town centre rise to £4.50 an hour from £1.20-2.40.
It will increase to £3 in areas including Raynes Park and Colliers Wood would go up to £3.
Merton Council hopes this will reduce levels of nitrogen dioxide.
Sixty per cent of this in the borough comes from vehicles.
In July the council voted in favour of declaring a climate change emergency pledging to make the whole of Merton carbon neutral by 2050 and the council a carbon neutral organisation by 2030.
But Liberal Democrat Councillor Anthony Fairclough said: “The scheme looks like it’s purely about raising revenue, mainly targeted at people who live in areas that don’t tend to elect Labour councillors – Wimbledon and Raynes Park – where the new charges will be highest.
“Instead we want them to look seriously at schemes where the worst polluting vehicles pay more, where support is given to help people change to greener vehicles, and where other positive action is also taken to improve air quality.”
Bridge remains closed to traffic five months after flood damage
Nearly five months on from its collapse, the Bishopsford Road Bridge remains closed to traffic.
In April work began on strengthening the bridge over the River Wandle, which borders Sutton and Merton.
But on 10 June the river flooded causing a series of unfortunate events.
Four days later the northern arch of the bridged partially collapsed, breaking gas, water, electricity and broadband mains.
The southern arch was unaffected but the central arch also suffered minor damage.
The gas leak meant that homes were evacuated with residents only allowed to return the next day.
The bridge is now open to pedestrians and cyclists and Merton Council is carrying out weekly monitoring of the paths but it is still not known how much the repair of the bridge will cost or when it will be reopened.
A meeting of Merton’s sustainable communities overview and scrutiny commission heard that the council is working with contractor FM Conway to iron out these details.
But Councillor David Dean said residents are concerned with how long the repairs are taking.
Merton may not be the first place you’d think an international delegation would visit but on Wednesday a party from Tokyo visited the Nelson Health Centre near Wimbledon Chase Station.
The group from the International Longevity Centre wanted to learn about how older people in Merton are supported, and find out more about providing community care for the elderly so they can remain independent for as long as possible.
Chair of Merton Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and Nelson Health Centre, Dr Andrew Murray, said: “With increasing ageing populations across the world, it is vital we collaborate to develop our future services.”
Merton CCGCopyright: Merton CCG
The group was hosted by the Health Innovation Network and Dr Carrie Chill, from the network, said they were particularly interested in social prescribing where a GP advises non-medical services in the community.
The Nelson Health Centre uses HARI (Holistic Assessment and Rapid Investigation) where a team of medical professionals including nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and pharmacists support patients to keep them well, reduce falls, recover from illnesses and injuries to stay living at home and receive the care they need in the community.
The plan is set to be rolled out across the borough after a pilot this year led to a large improvement in the well-being of patients.
Merton Council has issued a statement after four men were stabbed at a council-run park this weekend.
The stabbings took place in Morden Park on Saturday where Eastern Electrics festival was taking place.
The techno music festival was granted a licence by the council in February despite strong opposition from nearby residents.
Today a spokesman for Merton Council said any future applications for events of this nature would take the incident into account.
The spokesman said: “We were shocked to hear what happened in Morden Park on Saturday. Our thoughts are with those involved and their families. Merton is a very safe place and we take safety at events very seriously.
“Should an application be submitted to the council for an event of this nature in the future, past events would, of course, be taken into consideration.”
The first victim, a 24-year-old, was attacked just after 16:00 and taken to hospital.
Just before 18:45 another man, aged 27, was stabbed before being rushed to A&E.
Paramedics had to then take a third man, in his 20s, to hospital after he was found with stab wounds at 21:38.
None of these three men suffered life-threatening or life-changing injuries.
The fourth victim, a man in his 40s, was then found injured just before 22:00, his condition is unknown.
Plans for five air domes over tennis courts at Wimbledon have been given the go ahead by Merton Council.
The world-famous tennis club in south-west London is made up of two sites on either side of Somerset Road.
The smaller site, used by members throughout the year and for warm-ups during the annual championships, is being replaced with a new building with six indoor courts, six outdoor clay courts and an underground car park.
Building work is set to start in August, so the club wants temporary air domes over five courts on the main site to allow members to still have the option to play indoors.
In an application, planners said: “The air domes are critical in ensuring the overall Wimbledon Master Plan is carried out without detriment to the Club’s facilities and so that Wimbledon continues to be regarded as the finest stage in world tennis.”
The application had a handful of objections from residents living in Somerset Road who said there would be noise from the generators running all night.
One said: “The existing background noise levels e.g. from the odd passing vehicle at night is very different from the constant noise emitted from five generators running 24 hours a day for three years.”
But members of Merton Council’s planning committee passed the plans unanimously without debate.
Counterfeit goods like fake tobacco, toys and jewellery are finding worthy uses after being confiscated from criminals.
The items, seized by Richmond and Merton councils, have been donated to Sports Traider, a charity that works with trading standards departments.
Most of the haul is made up of items like fake rugby scarfs, boots, trainers, jewellery, toys and tobacco.
Fake jewellery often has dangerous levels of harmful substances like nickel, and the toys can be unsafe for children due to sharp edges or choking hazards.
It is hoped the scheme will reduce the amount that goes to landfill, and ensure that none of it ends up back on the black market.
The clothes will either be re-branded or shredded for material, and the tobacco will be used for compost.
Sports Traider uses the money it raises for schemes to help disabled and disadvantaged people gain employment and training, or play sports.
Third of children miss first-choice secondary school
More than a third of London children missed out on their first-choice secondary school places this year, according to a report.
The analysis, published by Labour MP Harriet Harman, showed 34% of children in the capital missed out on their first-choice place, a 2% rise from 2017, and almost double the national average of 17.9%.
It also found pupils in the inner city were much less likely to land a place at their preferred school, with 37.3% of pupils in inner London boroughs applying to secondary schools missing out on their first choice.
The worst 10 local authorities for children securing a place at their first-preference school are all in London.
The worst performer was Hammersmith and Fulham, followed by the City of London, Kensington and Chelsea, Lambeth, Lewisham, Westminster, Wandsworth, Southwark, Merton and Brent.
Online therapy service launches in Merton
Local Democracy Reporting Service
Big White WallCopyright: Big White Wall
People in Merton living with depression and other mental health conditions will be able to talk about their problems online, as well as face to face in future.
A new online therapy service has been set up to make more appointments available and to improve recovery rates in the borough.
The Big White Wall has been commissioned by Merton CCG (Clinical Commissioning Group) as an interim solution to address below average access and recovery rates.
It has been commissioned alongside another online service called Ieso Digital Health.
Both services have contracts until April next year when the CCG is planning to change all of its IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) contracts.
Merton parking charges set to increase
Local Democracy Reporting Service
Drivers could soon have to pay more for parking in Merton in a bid to reduce the number of people using their cars.
A report, set to be considered by the council’s cabinet on Monday, shows that nitrogen dioxide pollution in some areas breaches EU limits.
The council has identified ‘air quality focus areas’ in Mitcham, Morden, Raynes Park and Wimbledon which have high levels of pollution.
Another report outlining the increases is expected to be ready in December before being considered by the council in January.
Before the changes are decided, residents will have 21 days to have their say in a statutory consultation period.
Fifth of London murders 'linked back to Merton'
Local Democracy Reporting Service
A fifth of all murders in London can be linked back to Merton, according to a report published this week.
The report on knife crime has been put together by Neil Thurlow, head of Safer Merton.
Since 2016 there has been a 21% increase in knife crime in the borough at about 15 offences each month.
The highest level is seen in Figge’s Marsh and Cricket Green, accounting for 30% of all knife crime offences in the borough.
Colliers Wood and Pollards Hill are the see the third and fourth highest levels respectively.
But the increase in offences is less than half the increase that has been seen across London.
The report said: “Merton has not been unaffected by this increase [in 2018] in murder rate and knife crime.
“We have had one murder on borough, we have seen one ex-Merton young person killed in Camberwell and, through work undertaken by the youth offending team, they estimate that London’s murders can be linked back to Merton, in some way, in an alarming 20% of cases.”
It goes on to say that police cannot deal with the ‘pandemic’ of knife crime alone.
A ‘knife crime plan’ is set to be signed off by 14 September.
This will include how other organisations could contribute to weapon sweeps in the borough.
It will also include what front-line staff, like wardens and street cleaners, should do if they come across a weapon and whether training needs to be provided by the police for these groups.
The report is set to be discussed by Merton Council’s Joint Consultative Committee with Ethnic Minority Organisations on Tuesday.
Residents' objections sink Morden Park festival plans
Local Democracy Reporting Service
A new festival has been denied a licence by Merton Council after fierce opposition from neighbours.
Diynamic Festival was set to take place in Morden Park next month but it will now have to find a new location - despite tickets already being on sale.
The decision was made by the council's licensing sub-committee yesterday.
The meeting at Merton Civic Centre heard from concerned residents and festival organisers MJMK before spending nearly two hours deliberating.
Residents complained about noise and antisocial behaviour at Eastern Electrics, a two-day festival at the park which took place from 4 August.
They were concerned another festival attracting 10,000 people would have the same issues.
Plans to develop Wimbledon YMCA in 'early stages'
Local Democracy Reporting Service
Plans to redevelop Wimbledon YMCA are in the 'early stages', according to Merton Council.
The hostel in The Broadway is currently seeking pre-application advice from the council.
Proposals include replacing the building (pictured) with a new hostel as well as a 13-storey block of flats.
Last week, the plans went to Merton Council's Design Review Panel and were examined by the independent professionals in private.
A spokeswoman for the group said: "It is important to YMCA St Paul's that we provide good quality affordable accommodation to young people in need and our redevelopment plans intend to provide such accommodation to the latest standards.
"We will be going through how best to incorporate the panel's feedback with our development partners over the next few weeks and seek to explain our revised ideas and timescales in due course."
In April the hostel closed its restaurant to the public prompting a petition to be started.
Back in 2013 the YMCA scrapped plans to build a mix of hostel buildings and residential flats.
Merton Council leader: We are not demolishing Merton Hall