Public meeting at Bemahague to discuss rate reforms.The proposed local authority rate reforms, due before Tynwald next week, have been branded unfair at a public meeting.

Residents, MHKs and local authority members attended a meeting with Minister for Policy and Reform Chris Thomas on Tuesday night at St Ninian’s Lower School.

The proposal is to replace the current mechanism of setting rates using a house’s rental value with an area-based figure calculated using aerial photography to create 3D images of every house in the island.

Early into the meeting, the issue of fairness was raised with Onchan MHK Rob Callister saying he has concerns over how the reforms could affect local authority housing tenants.

Mr Callister told Mr Thomas that ’tenants will be hit hard’ and that when combined with increases in rents, which are set by government, ’some may see rises of 14% or 15%’ in subsequent years.

However Mr Thomas said that the changes will ’not be coming in next year’.

Under the government’s timescale, the changes and new charges should be enforced from 2022 onwards.

One resident in attendance questioned Mr Thomas and head of economic affairs Adam Smith on whether it is fair that residents living in a house in a town, with the same interior area space as a house in the countryside which could have a large plot of land, should be charged the same.

Mr Smith said that it was fair under the new system.

Onchan Commissioners chairman Robin Turton criticised this, saying that as rates are used to pay for, among other things, sewage and water usage, it isn’t fair.

Mr Turton added: ’A four bedroom council house will likely have one toilet and bathroom whereas a four bedroom private house is more likely to have more than one.’

Mr Thomas said they had ’a different view of fairness’ and there is usually a ’good correlation between square meters and toilet usage’.

Mr Turton said that the message he was sending to local authority tenants was ’hard luck’.

Braddan Commissioners chairman Andrew Jessop said it was ’an attempt to make it fair without letting us know why or how it’s fair’.

Timing

Including MHKs, local authority leaders and journalists, there was 27 people who attended the meeting.

Mr Turton told Mr Thomas at the start of the meeting that 6pm was ’too early for our residents’ as many would still be on their way home or working and suggested that 7.30pm would have been a better time.

Mr Thomas said that he ’didn’t choose the time’ and that it was done to suit the school. However, a resident later raised the issue again calling 6pm a ’silly time’.

When Mr Thomas said he can ’feed that back’ for future meetings he was labelled ’arrogant’ by Garff commissioner Peter Kinnish which led to Mr Thomas apologising and saying that ’no one’ had raised the issue of the early start before.

He added that ’meetings are not the most modern form of engagement’, pointing to many posts on social media about the reforms.

The meeting was the third of four roadshows. However, in Tynwald on Tuesday, there was criticism about a lack of notice and adequate publicity for the meetings.

Jason Moorhouse (Arbory, Castletown and Malew) raised the issue with Mr Thomas, who insisted the announcement of the meetings, one week before they took place, was enough time.

He said the timescale was in part to be ’respectful’ of Tynwald and the publication of its agenda. Participation from the public and local authorities had been ’helpful’.

The minister admitted that, while the meetings had been promoted on social media, there had not been any public notices advertising them, nor posters.

The minister argued that those who attended the meetings said they had been well advertised. Public notices would mean extra cost and bureaucracy, he said.

Cost

Clare Barber (Douglas East) asked how many people had attended the meetings and if the attendance was not as good as he had hoped whether he conceded it might have been connected to a lack of publicity.

Mr Thomas said there were about 30 people at each of the public meetings that had taken place ahead of Tuesday’s Tynwald. ’You cannot make people come to public meetings,’ he added.