Merton Council

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Agenda and minutes

Venue: This will be a virtual meeting and therefore will not take place in a physical location, in accordance with s78 of the Coronavirus Act 2020.

Link: View the meeting live here

No. Item


Apologies for absence


Apologies were received from co-opted members Emma Lemon and Colin Powell.


Declarations of pecuniary interest


There were no declarations of pecuniary interest.


Minutes of the previous meeting pdf icon PDF 73 KB


The minutes were agreed as an accurate record, subject to the deletion of the first sentence of the second paragraph of the reference to Cabinet – “There was no seconder for this proposal.” ACTION: Head of Democracy Services.


Merton Council's response to the Covid 19 pandemic

Verbal statement from the Leader of the Council and the Chief Executive


The Leader of the Council, Councillor Stephen Alambritis, and the Chief Executive, Ged Curran, expressed sadness at the number of people that had died during the pandemic and gave their deepest condolences to the families and friends of those who had passed. They also paid tribute to the key workers, council staff, voluntary organisations, police, members of the public and many others who have provided assistance to those in need.


Councillor Alambritis provided an overview of the impact of the pandemic in Merton and the council’s response to date:


·         173 deaths, of which 131 died in hospital, 21 in care homes and 21 in other locations.

·         the council has incurred considerable additional costs and loss of income that will leave a funding gap of between £25m ad £35m, some of which will be met by the government.

·         the council has 20 days supply of PPE, has given 20,000 items to care providers that the council works with and has worked with London Councils on Londonwide procurement of stocks

·         the council has provided support to people who are shielded. Note – the council does not have a formal role in relation to testing and tracking.

·         The council has a good working relationship with local hospitals, care homes and the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG). The Leader has received a letter of thanks from the Chair of the CCG.

·         Local schools have remained open for children who need them and teachers have been working in school and at home on virtual learning. The council will respect the decisions of headteachers and governing bodies on what is best in relation to opening schools to a greater number of pupils.

·         25 homeless people have been housed during the pandemic and the council is working to find funding to provider longer term housing so that they will hopefully not return to the streets.

·         The council has drawn up an emergency transport strategy to increase the provision of safe walking and cycling routes. The strategy is currently out for consultation.

·         Domestic violence figures have been relatively low in Merton.

·         Work has commenced to support local BAME communities with the disproportionate impact that Covid 19 has had on them.

·         Local businesses have been adversely impacted and the council has moved quickly to distribute government funding on to businesses (Merton was the third fastest in London).

·         Parks and open spaces have remained open in Merton.


Ged Curran drew on his perspective as the co-ordinator of the response in South West London and their representative on the London-wide local government response team, to say that Merton has responded well to the challenges it has faced. The council has implemented a number of entirely new services at short notice to protect over 6,500 people on the shielding register.

Ged Curran said that there were a number of challenges ahead, some of which would be very severe. A second wave of the virus is inevitable at some stage. Constraints on the economy will be relatively long lasting and a significant recession is  ...  view the full minutes text for item 4.


Scrutiny work programme during the Covid 19 pandemic pdf icon PDF 76 KB


The Chair invited the Chief Executive, Ged Curran, to set out ways in which scrutiny could add value without impeding the work to respond to and recover from the pandemic. Ged Curran welcomed the understanding that members had displayed at the start of the pandemic and said that he was pleased that scrutiny was now able to resume. He asked for continued acceptance for the time being that requests for written reports and officer attendance would need to be carefully managed. He said that scrutiny would have a valuable role in looking to the future, whilst ensuring that it does not impinge on the council’s response to the pandemic.


The Chair introduced the proposal set out in the report for an interim model of scrutiny carried out solely by the Commission for the next 2-3 months. Discussion revealed a general consensus that shorter reports and more question and answer sessions with Cabinet Members and senior managers would be helpful. However, there were opposing views as to whether the Commission-only model, kept under review at each meeting, was most appropriate for the time being or whether the scrutiny panels should also resume meeting in order to scrutinise a wider range of issues and engage a larger number of members.


A number of members suggested that the pandemic provided an opportunity to rethink how scrutiny operates and to engage Cabinet members in dialogue in order to work together and achieve the councils goals.


It was also suggested that the work of the current task groups had been overtaken by events and should therefore be wound up rather than drawing further on officer resources at this time.


Members agreed that the suggested priority areas for scrutiny set out in paragraphs 2.14-2.18 were helpful and a good starting point for developing a work programme. It was suggested that the transport strategy, cycling and use of public spaces could be added to the list. A member suggested that the impact on schools and vulnerable children should be a priority for the next meeting. The Chair announced that he had received a request for pre-decision scrutiny of the Climate Strategy and Action Plan prior to consideration by Cabinet in July.


The Chair proposed that the Commission should continue to be the sole scrutiny body operating for the time being and should review this at its meeting on 24 June. The June meeting would also discuss the climate strategy and action plan, alongside a second topic. A vote was taken with 6 votes in favour and none against – the proposal was therefore agreed.


The Head of Democracy Services undertook to work with Directors and lead scrutiny members from all four political groups to bring a report to the June meeting setting out a proposal for re-starting the scrutiny panels with an indicative work programme for each.