In April this year a new local authority called Dorset Council will be formed out of the old district and county council areas in Dorset excluding Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole.
This will mean amalgamating most of the Dorset County Council area with the district councils of North Dorset, East Dorset, West Dorset, Purbeck and Weymouth and Portland.
This will bring with it many changes and one of the ones that directly affects its residents is the issue of council tax.
Now a quick disclaimer, I do not know for certain what the final figures will be, what I’ve written below is conjecture based on what I have gleaned so far.
The amount of council tax you pay varies from parish to parish and town to town, with the reason being that it is made up of several different elements.
Those elements are currently: County Council, District Council, Police Service, the Fire Service and finally your town or parish council.
Now, the charges for the County Council, Police and Fire are identical for all taxpayers.
The ones that vary area by area are the District and Parish/Town council costs. This is because the services they deliver have been built up over time and are bespoke for that locality based on what voters wanted their councillors to deliver and how much they were prepared to pay for it.
The problem with this new amalgamation into one huge unitary authority, is that the District Council element will now have to become uniform across the whole new council area. But services will not change. Town and Parish arrangements will be left unchanged.
Here are the District Council elements that taxpayers currently fork out every year (year 2018-2019 based on Band D property). As you can see, Shaftesbury being in the North Dorset District Council area pays the least:
Weymouth & Portland-£301.08
And the question is, how is this going to be changed so that everyone pays the same?
Now, the original plan was that it would be achieved over a period of years, but the decision has now been taken to do this in one fell swoop starting this year.
Let’s just start with a basic averaging exercise. Although not accurate due to differing population and housing numbers its probably as good as anything at this stage. That would mean everyone would pay £195.86p each.
That would mean a rise for every former district council area except Weymouth & Portland with absolutely no change in service delivery for those paying more and no reduction in service delivery for those paying far less.
For those in North Dorset it would be a rise in tax of £68.90, an increase of 54.3% on that tax element!
While Weymouth and Portland will see a corresponding drop of 35%.
That is without the inevitable annual hike in taxes that are foisted on us.
But let’s just take the figures above without that rise. For those living in Shaftesbury your council tax for a band D property is currently £1969.20p a year.
Just averaging out the district council element would push that up to £2038.10p. That’s an instant rise of 3.5%, before factoring in any annual council tax rise.
And this is where the problems start.
The Police and Crime Commissioner is raising his part of the council tax for everyone by £24 (11.6%) a year, which is the maximum rise allowed.
The Fire Service is increasing its part by £2.17 a year (3%), which is the maximum rise allowed.
Shaftesbury Town Council has been prudent and will be charging the same in 2019-2020 as it did in the previous year (0% rise).
So that puts up your total council tax bill for next year for a Band D house in Shaftesbury to £2064.27, which is a rise of 4.8%.
And that is without any rise in the now combined County Council and District Council elements that will total £1602.20p!
Now, under government guidance a referendum must now held if a unitary authority increases its part of council tax by more than 5%.
And district councils need to hold a referendum if their bit is to go up by more than 3% – although it will no longer exist, the rise here could be in the region of a massive 54%!
And what would be the outcome if the new unitary increased its element by the full 5% allowable? In a Band D property in Shaftesbury you could face a total bill of £2,118.21p, a total rise of £149.01p (7.6%). The question is, do you think that’s fair on you?
This was never put to the people. And furthermore it has been put in place by councillors and councils that are not now accountable for that decision, because they will not exist in three months time!
Remember this when voting in May and deciding who to place as councillors in your brand new unitary authority.