Isle of Wight residents will have to pay more for a new tax for the new combined Hampshire and Isle of Wight Fire Authority from 2021.
Islanders will have to pay more to a fire precept — like the ones for town and parish councils and the police — towards the new combined fire authority, in an act of ‘council tax harmonisation’.
Combined fire authority
Last year, it was decided Isle of Wight Fire Authority and Hampshire Fire Authority would become a Combined Fire Authority serving both sides of the Solent, fully serving its role from April 2021.
£6.88 extra a year
A full meeting of the Isle of Wight Council heard that in order to pay for the service, Island Band D council tax payers will pay £69.06 (for a Band D property), on top of council tax from 2021, for the first year.
However, £62.18 of this will come from the existing allowance for fire in their council tax bill, meaning the actual increase will be £6.88 per annum.
This will produce £370,000 more for the fire budget.
Hants residents already pay more
However, across the water in Hampshire, residents will not change how much they pay towards the precept initially as they have already been paying more in a separate tax for their Hampshire Fire and Rescue Authority.
This has been determined as a baseline before any other increases to council tax and precepts are made — so Island residents will pay to match the precept tax level in Hampshire and then potentially more if it is decided to raise taxes in February 2021.
“A stealth tax”
Although it was voted through by the Isle of Wight Council, with 24 votes in favour and one abstention, 12 councillors voted against the new proposals for the new tax level — calling it a stealth tax and saying it would put the Island in a situation where it seems to be paying more with no guarantee of anything in return.
Cllr Michael Lilley said he was confused by the proposal and that it was not fair for the Island. He said,
“It seems to me, even though we have given away all the capital assets regarding the fire service, that actually we Island residents are paying an extra amount for it.”
Andre: “At a loss to how I can explain this to my residents”
Cllr Debbie Andre, leader of the Island Independent Group, said she could understand the rationale behind precept, but could not vote for it.
“I am at a loss to how I can explain this to my residents, where on the face of it the impact on residents in Hampshire is nil but the impact on residents of the Isle of Wight is that they are going to be paying yet another tax at this time where they can ill afford to pay it.”
Barry: “I think that is a shame but nothing can be done”
Cllr Reg Barry said the Conservative councillors had wanted to ‘get rid of’ the Island’s service since they took control in 2017.
“Not only are they getting rid of it, the Isle of Wight people are going to have to pay more for it, I think that is a shame but nothing can be done.
“In the end, there will be nothing left on the Isle of Wight, it will all be run from Hampshire.”
Peace: This is the only way we can fund it
However, Cllr Gary Peace, cabinet member for community safety, said opposition members were looking at the issue in ‘completely the wrong way’ as the current service was not good as it wasn’t being funded properly.
“This is the only way we can fund it, this is the only way we can upskill our own officers and the Hampshire officers.
“This is about increasing safety and resilience for this Island and for our people and actually it is a really small price to pay to have increased resources, increased fire engines, increased training and a better service.”
Stewart: “We can’t have our cake and eat it”
Cllr Dave Stewart, leader of the council, reminded councillors we “can’t have our cake and eat it” as all the liabilities moved over to the new fire authority as well as the assets.
This article is from the BBC’s LDRS (Local Democracy Reporter Service) scheme, which OnTheWight is taking part in. Some alterations and additions may be been made by OnTheWight. Ed
Image: © Friends of Freshwater Fire Station