Portland Town Council has been slated as being ‘utterly unreasonable’ by a government minister over plans to hike the island’s council tax precept.
And the council’s actions could force the government to cap town council taxes.
At a public meeting, town councillors defended the decision to hike the council tax precept by 1,000 per cent by saying the increase was needed to provide services before a cap was introduced.
But South Dorset MP Richard Drax said the situation had been misunderstood but a cap may be put in place only if town and parish councils make such large increases.
Town councillor Tim Munro told over 600 people who packed into All Saints Church in Easton on Monday night that an email forwarded to him by Mr Drax from Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis confirmed there would be a cap.
Mr Lewis said: “Every bit of local government needs to do its bit to keep down council tax and help hard-working people with the cost of living.
“Parish councils have never received central government funding and are self-financing, but such a large increase seems to me to be utterly unreasonable.
“Incidents like these make the case for council tax referendum protections to be extended to parish councils, and such an extension of direct democracy is something we are considering.”
But Mr Drax said: “Regrettably I understand the minister was misquoted at the meeting.
“To be absolutely clear, as soon as I was made aware of my constituents’ concerns I contacted the Department for Local Government and received a response from Mr Lewis which I forwarded to the councillors involved before the meeting.
“On that email I supported the minister’s view that the rise was utterly unreasonable.”
Mr Drax, who was unable to attend the meeting, added: “Reading the minister’s response, I would consider that there is an implicit warning for irresponsible town and parish councils in future.
“However, the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has not suggested that town and parish precepts will be capped.
“As most of us know, town and parish councils operate autonomously. The Communities Secretary was referring to capping the county, district, borough and Unitary Councils, which fall under his remit.
“Certainly, to use the possibility of a future referendum on increasing council tax precepts as an excuse for such a drastic rise in a town precept now seems to me entirely unreasonable.”
Mr Drax also praised the Portland residents for their ‘dignity and decorum’ at Monday’s meeting.
Responding to Mr Drax’s comments, Coun Munro denied he had misled the public.
He said: “The email says that a cap is something they are considering and for Mr Drax to deny that is unreasonable.”
He added: “We were trying to protect island services for the future. If we hadn’t put forward the increase, a town or parish council in another part of the country could have done so, forcing the cap and we would be the victim of someone else’s actions.”
When asked by the Echo if other town councils could now be the victims of Portland Town Council’s actions if the cap is put in place, Coun Munro said: “Each council must make its own judgment.”