Poole residents will not be facing a council tax rise this year after Liberal Democrats and Poole People councillors combined to outvote the Conservatives.

They crushed the administration’s proposal for a 1.95 per cent council tax increase and the only rise residents will face is the fire and police precept - £8.51 a year on a Band D property.

In a highly charged meeting of Borough of Poole last night, in which all 42 councillors took their seats, council leader Cllr Elaine Atkinson warned of an “abyss” to be faced in future years, but pledged to carry on after losing by two votes.

“I’m leader of this council and I propose to stay,” she said. “I still haven’t worked out how we are going to fill that £14-16million gap. I am sure we will all work together to find a way to fill it.”

Despite an impassioned plea for councillors to be “leaders” and dire warnings that the council could face bankruptcy by 2015/16, her amendment to spend £500,000 of specific earmarked reserve to invest in growth, provided it was match funded, was voted down.

Cllr Phil Eades, Liberal Democrat said this was an 11th hour proposal which they had no chance to evaluate. “The funding is from a specific reserve of just over £1m whose express purpose is to support the medium term financial plan. This doesn’t support it in any way,” he said.

Lib Dem financial spokesman, Cllr David Brown put forward an alternative budget for a zero tax rise, with savings in senior management and cabinet member’s allowances and the £1m earmarked reserve used across three years.

Cllr Mark Howell, leader of Poole People, said there were more efficiencies and savings that could be made along with a radical overhaul of management. “We have a responsibility to taxpayers in Poole to make these changes before asking them to pay more council tax,” he said. 

But chief executive John McBride warned: “The focus is on a short term discussion about balancing next year’s budget. Nobody has commented on the £13m we have to find in the following two years.”