Kent police commissioner Ann Barnes in bid for inflation-busting council tax rise
Kent's police commissioner has defended her plans for an above-inflation tax rise for residents, saying pushing up bills would help save the jobs of 20 beat officers.
Ann Barnes set out her proposal to increase the police element of the council tax by up to 3.5% today.
But she said she would only go ahead if it did not trigger a public referendum under the as-yet-unannounced government threshold for a public vote.
Kent police commissioner Ann Barnes
A smaller tax increase of just under 2%, which is more likely to avoid a costly referendum, is being kept as an option.
Her plan drew a mixed reaction and members of the Kent Crime Panel, the watchdog committee which holds the commissioner to account, voted narrowly against the increase.
The commissioner said a 3.5% hike would see average bills rise by nearly £5 a year to £147 for each household to meet the cost of policing.
"I am heartbroken that I need to ask people to support a 3.5% increase but the people of Kent want visible community policing and tell me they would be happy to pay a bit more for it," she said. "I do think I have the support of people out there.
"I am heartbroken that I need to ask people to support a 3.5% increase but the people of Kent want visible community policing and tell me they would be happy to pay a bit more for it..." - police commissioner Ann Barnes
"The people of Kent pay much less for policing than elsewhere in the country. The number one priority [for residents] is having their officers in their streets and communities. It is not a high hike if you are talking about it in terms of money."
But she provoked criticism from some members of the panel when she said the increase would save jobs of about 20 beat officers.
Cllr Annabelle Blackmore, of Maidstone council, said: "The increase is not going to be spent on retaining these officers. The money will be eaten up in other costs. It is a bit of a trick... it is tugging on the heart strings."
Mrs Barnes dismissed calls to make savings by outsourcing more "back office" services, saying she had been elected on a manifesto not to privatise services.
The biggest element of the Kent Police budget of £279million is police pay, which accounts for £168m.
The government is expected to confirm next week at what level councils and crime commissioners will be forced to stage a public vote on tax hikes. There is speculation that it could be 1.5% although most councils have budgeted for 2%.
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