COUNCIL tax charged by BCP Council is to rise by an average of 1.55 per cent this year – a figure it claims is the lowest in the country.

Proposals within its draft budget include a £50 million pandemic recovery fund and £10 million to improve education provision for children with extra needs.

Councillor Drew Mellor, its leader, said the plan allowed it to “invest significantly” without putting the burden on ratepayers.

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.

Bills in Christchurch will be frozen for the coming year with a 0.76 per cent increase in Bournemouth and a 2.99 per cent rise in Poole leaving the charge for an average Band D home at £1,541.57.

The move has been welcomed by Christchurch Independent councillor Lesley Dedman whose group, as a member of the former Unity Alliance administration began the process of aligning rates.

Councils can increase council tax by a maximum of 1.99 per cent in any year without the need for approval through a referendum.

On top of this they can add on a three per cent 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 per cent increase was the lowest in the country with many councils 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 £50 million although government grants have covered all but £6 million 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 £50 million “futures fund” focusing on the area’s emergence from the pandemic with a focus on infrastructure spending.

A further £10 million 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 £7.2 million set aside for this year, including £1 million 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.

Cllr Mellor said this included a commitment to the long-term future of the Air Festival and another “large event” planned for later this year.

Former council leader 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 February 1 before going through the cabinet a week later ahead of a final decision by the full council on February 23.