THE majority share of the council tax charged by BCP Council in Christchurch is set to be frozen in 2021/22.
For the first time since it was formed in 2019, BCP Council will charge the same level of council tax in each of the three towns, writes Josh Wright of the Local Democracy Reporting Service.
It means its part of the bill in Christchurch will be unchanged for the coming financial year, with a 0.76% increase in Bournemouth and a 2.99% rise in Poole – charging an average band D home £1,541.57.
The move has been welcomed by Christchurch Independent Cllr Lesley Dedman whose group, as a member of the former Unity Alliance administration, began the process of aligning rates.
The rest of the overall council tax is made up of demands from the police and fire services, plus town and parish councils. The current total 2020/21 band D levy for Christchurch residents without a town or parish council is £1,858.51.
Proposals within BCP Council’s draft budget include a £50m pandemic recovery fund and £10m to improve education provision for children with extra needs.
Cllr Drew Mellor, its leader, said the plan allowed it to “invest significantly” without putting the burden on ratepayers.
Councils can increase council tax by a maximum of 1.99% in any year without the need for approval through a referendum. On top of this they can add on a 3% ring-fenced rise for its adult social care work but BCP Council has decided against using it.
Cllr Mellor said he believed the average 1.55% increase for its share of the overall council tax was the lowest in the country with many authorities opting for large increases to cover the cost of the pandemic.
“Considering the huge pressures on our finances over the last year due to Covid-19, this is a significant achievement and is symbolic of our commitment to treat all those who live in the BCP area equitably, and to keep more of our residents’ hard-earned money in their pockets,” he said.
The financial impact of the pandemic on the council has been estimated at about £50m although government grants have covered all but £6m of this.
Cllr Mellor said the council was also the second worst-affected local authority in terms of the loss of income caused by lockdowns and other measures introduced to tackle the coronavirus.
Despite this, the proposed budget sets aside tens of millions of pounds to fund what he said was the “bold vision” of his Conservative administration.
Within this is a five-year £50m “futures fund” focusing on the area’s emergence from the pandemic with a focus on infrastructure spending.
A further £10m is allocated for increasing the educational provision for children with special educational needs in a bid to tackle a growing multi-million-pound deficit.
And there is £7.2m set aside for this year, including £1m to help disadvantaged children catch-up with the lack of in-school teaching and £250,000 to support a range of events to support the pandemic-hit hospitality industry.
Former council leader Cllr Vikki Slade welcomed the decision to continue priorities set under her administration.
“The prudence with which the council has been managed since its inception and the cautious approach that we took to pausing priorities have paid off, enabling new investment in a range of areas,” she said.
The draft budget will be considered by members of the council’s scrutiny board on 1st February before going through the cabinet the next week ahead of a final decision by the full council on 23rd February.