Residents set for tax cut in new council plan to speed up funding ‘fairness’

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Christchurch tax
Under the plan, Christchurch residents could get a 4.5% Band D council tax cut

CHRISTCHURCH residents are due for a tax cut as plans to bring rates in the new unitary council into line more quickly are overhauled.

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Fresh proposals, outlined in a report to the first meeting of BCP Council’s ruling cabinet, are for rates in the three towns to be harmonised in two years rather than the controversial seven-year process introduced by the shadow authority last year, writes Josh Wright of the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

The new multi-group alliance controlling the council – which includes the Christchurch independent group – said the move was about “fairness” and would allow a period for council tax and services to be brought up to similar levels across each area.

The recommended plan for the shorter period will see people in Bournemouth and Poole receiving a 2.99% – the maximum allowed without a referendum – council tax rise next year. Meanwhile rates in Christchurch will be reduced by 4.5%.

The following year, Poole will again see a 2.99% increase with people in Bournemouth having a smaller 0.76% rise with rates in Christchurch frozen to make all rates equal in 2021.

The cabinet member for finance, Liberal Democrat Cllr David Brown, said the change would be fairer than the approach agreed by members of the shadow authority last year.

“While we were having talks about forming the alliance it quickly became apparent that the previous approach was not right,” he said.

“The Christchurch independents wanted it to be a day-one harmonisation, which you could understand, but at the same time there is not yet parity between services. For example, Poole has lost a lot of its public conveniences.

“The two-year approach allows us to harmonise council tax and services at the same time.”

Cllr Brown said the change would have an impact on its finances but that the shorter period would give the council more “flexibility” with council tax in future years.

“Whereas we would have had our hands tied for seven years over whether we needed to increase or decrease rates, this means that in three years we will be able to do what is necessary then,” he added.

Cabinet member and mayor of Christchurch, Cllr Lesley Dedman, said the two-year harmonisation period was the “fairest” way to do things.

“What this proves is that this could have been done last year,” she said. “This was the main issue in Christchurch and I’m glad that we have now reached this position.

“The view of Christchurch residents was very clear and this is the fairest outcome for everyone living in the three towns.”

No changes to council tax charges will be made until the budget for next year is finalised.

Council leader, Lib Dem 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.”

Members of the council’s cabinet will consider the new approach at their first meeting on Wednesday 12th June.

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