RESIDENTS have been warned to expect council tax increases by councillors – with one describing BCP Council’s financial position as “on life support”.

Following a report from the council’s chief finance officer, opposition groups have doubled down on their frustrations at the situation.

As reported, senior officer Adam Richens has said no new financial commitments should be made until the local authority can deliver a balanced budget for next year.

The stark situation comes following the collapse of the Conservative administration’s plan to sell of thousands of beach huts in a £50million move to fund transformation.

However, council leader Cllr Drew Mellor has told the Daily Echo he did not agree when it was suggested the current position was precarious and challenging.

Members are expected to discuss the council's finances in depth at a scrutiny committee meeting on Friday before a raft of recommendations go to cabinet next week.

Ahead of a big few weeks in the town halls, opposition and independent councillors have hit out at the Conservative leadership.

Liberal Democrat councillor Mike Cox said: “The chickens are coming home to roost on the council leader and the schemes which he has been presenting.

Bournemouth Echo: Cllr Mike CoxCllr Mike Cox (Image: BCP Council)

“He needs to resign and resign now. The council is in a medical expression on life support.”

Cllr Cox added: “This is extremely serious and extremely damaging not just to the reputation of BCP Council but potentially for some of the residents.

“It is exactly what we have been warning of for months and months.”

Independent councillor Stephen Bartlett said he was not sure if pursuing borrowing from government was the right thing to do - the council has asked for £76million over the next three years.

He favoured plugging the financial gap through a sale of assets, with Mallard Road Retail Park being his first suggestion.

Bournemouth Echo: Cllr Stephen BartlettCllr Stephen Bartlett (Image: BCP Council)

“I think a coalition should be formed until the next election with all this politics set aside so the interests of residents come first," Cllr Bartlett said.

“Bring the conurbation together in a time of financial difficulties.”

In a statement, the Christchurch Independents, who also called for Cllr Mellor to resign, said the financial report was a “painful and predictable end” of the beach hut budget plan.

“We now have the government stepping in to remedy the dire situation into which the Conservative administration of BCP has thrown the three towns,” the statement said. “This is both horrifying and humiliating.

“But at least this means that the leader, Drew Mellor, and deputy Leader Phil Broadhead, will have to stop these ‘dodgy dealings’ – as described by the government minister – and our rush in their train down the slippery slope towards bankruptcy may just be halted.“

They added: “For our solvent, well run town to be forced into this shocking financial and reputational position after such a short time is absolutely shameful.

“Our Christchurch Independent Party was formed to guard the interests of our residents in this unwanted merger. We shall continue to do so.

“And we call for this administration to resign.”

Poole People councillor and former council deputy leader Mark Howell said the Conservative administration had been “irresponsible in spending taxpayers money”.

He said the cost of the transformation programme seemed “out of control”.

Cllr Howell said: “There is no good news for taxpayers because the money which has been spent can’t be recovered and the gap in the budget for next year is millions of pounds and it can only be budgeted by them borrowing money from the government with conditions, which will be very limiting to how the council is managed in the future.

“Essentially it is likely that the council will be forced into some kind of austerity measures. We are waiting to see what the government comes back with.

“It is a complete mess and extremely bad management of finances.

“It means that council taxpayers will definitely have to pay more council tax in the future and they are likely to suffer a reduced level of service.”

Cllr Mellor told the Daily Echo: “We have a gap we need to bridge for next year which is reduced from where it was when we set the budget in February and this is after finding £14million this year and £18million for 23/24 for cost of living pressures the country wasn't expecting in February.

Bournemouth Echo: Cllr Drew MellorCllr Drew Mellor (Image: BCP Council)

“The cost-of-living impact is £42million and our gap is low £30millions so without that we'd already be in surplus. We inherited a £50million gap from the Unity Alliance in October 2020 and still balanced the 2021/22 budget and then went on to deliver a circa £15million in year surplus.

“Local government finance is under significant pressure because of inflation and we're working closer with government than we ever have done so will bring proposals forward throughout the autumn.”