Less than 24 hours after BPC Council released details of the latest council tax harmonisation plans, a row appears to have broken out between the ruling Unity Alliance and the Conservatives.
The news released by the BCP Press Office yesterday (4 June) announced that the new Unity Alliance group of councillors has proposed that all residents in Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole would pay the same rate of Council Tax at a much earlier stage than the previously agreed plan. The announcement suggested that all council tax payers across BCP would be paying the same from as early as April 2021.
The previous administration’s strategy would have seen council tax harmonised gradually over a seven-year period. The new plan to harmonise council tax over just two years has led to some councillors now arguing that it is unfair on some of the less well-off residents in Bournemouth and Poole.
2.99% increase planned for Bournemouth & Poole council tax payers
Under the proposed plan, which is yet to be agreed by council, the residents of Poole would see an increase in their council tax of 2.99% over the next two years. Bournemouth would also see an increase of 2.99% in year one and a 0.76% in year two. In Christchurch it would mean a reduction of 4.47% in year one and a freeze in year two. It is not clear at this stage if Bournemouth and Poole council tax bills will match Christchurch including the extra precept for their additional Town Councils or not. Bournemouth & Poole currently do not have additional Town Councils, which Christchurch residents currently pay extra for in the form of an additional precept.
Final bills likely to be show increases higher than 2.99%
The proposed 2.99% increase excludes additional precepts for Dorset police and Dorset & Wiltshire Fire & Rescue who have consistently added increases to council tax bills. Once these additional precepts have been added in, local people could be looking at increased bills of much more than the 2.99% quoted. The final figure is unknown until the Police and Fire Authorities have agreed how much extra they will need to deliver services for the coming year. This is usually calculated just before new council tax bills go out at the end of February.
‘A new approach’ says Council leader
Commenting on the proposed changes to policy, Council Leader Cllr Vikki Slade said, “It isn’t fair that residents of Christchurch pay a significantly higher level of council tax than those with the same band of property in Poole and Bournemouth. We want a new approach that sees everyone in Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole paying the same council tax levels as soon as possible. But this must be linked to everyone receiving the same standards of service too, across the board. Our strategy will aim to achieve both service and council tax equity across the whole area from April 2021.”
Cllr Slade was also keen to stress their goal of achieving equal services for all residents of the three towns, she went on to say “I am also delighted that, at our very first Cabinet meeting, we will be able to get on with the process of achieving consistent services across the three towns – starting with public toilets. Residents and visitors to Poole are seriously short-changed by a lack of toilets compared to Bournemouth, Christchurch and other local towns”
Most deprived residents will see large increases, say opponents
The proposals were quickly dismissed by the Conservative Group on the council, where Group Deputy Leader Cllr Philip Broadhead said “It is surprising to see that one of the first acts of this new “inclusive” authority is to saddle the council tax payers of Poole and Bournemouth with a large increase for two years in order to fund a big reduction in Christchurch. The Conservatives had committed to manage this process with no additional increases in Bournemouth and Poole. The Liberal Democrat-led coalition has instead opted to burden some of our area’s most deprived residents with increased bills.
We all agree there is a need to make the new Council fair to all residents of all areas, particularly with charges and services. But we firmly believe that big tax increases for some of our poorest areas is not the way to achieve that goal.”
The Labour party, who now have three councillors in the BCP region have dismissed the conservative’s concerns that poorer families will be affected by the higher tax rises and confirmed their support for the Unity Alliance’s position. A spokesman for the local party stated that they felt the previous Tory plan to keep Christchurch residents paying more for 7 years was ‘simply unacceptable’ and that ‘the electorate clearly shared that view’
“We are not going to take lectures from conservatives about the possible impact on lower income families when it is their policies nationally that have made the situation much worse” they added.
What do you think?
There is no doubt our new administration are looking at new and progressive ways to run the new council, though clearly some may argue that this latest policy may not be in the interests of all BCP residents.
Are you a resident that will be affected by the proposed changes? What are you thoughts on the proposals, do you agree that council tax should rise more steeply in Poole and Bournemouth to achieve harmonisation or are you worried about the changes and how it will affect you?
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