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Kent crime commissioner Ann Barnes accused after Kent Police press office takeover move

By Paul Francis

Kent police commissioner Ann Barnes has been accused of risking the independence of the force's communications team after it emerged press office staff are to answer to her rather than the chief constable.

Staff in the police communications team, whose job is to respond to and inform the media and public on operational matters, are to formally become employees under Mrs Barnes.

Until now, the press office has been overseen by the chief constable and was independent of the commissioner.

Kent's Police and Crime Commissioner Ann Barnes
Kent's Police and Crime Commissioner Ann Barnes

The move has raised concerns the communications team could be used to promote the work of the commissioner.

A statement issued jointly by Conservative members of the Kent Area Group, which has the job of holding the commissioner to account, said: "This is political opportunism.

"Ann Barnes is one of only a half a dozen commissioners that is keeping the police press office under their direct control.

"The vast majority have allowed their chief constables to retain non-political control of the messages coming out of their forces.

"This is the police and crime commissioner's most political move since she took office and we do not believe that it will turn out to be in the best interests of the people of Kent and Medway."

The decision has also come under fire from COPACC, an independent group that scrutinises and monitors the work of crime commissioners.

Kent Police has been to court to ask for more time to probe election expenses
Kent Police has been to court to ask for more time to probe election expenses

Bernard Rix, who runs COPACC, said the move by the Kent commissioner and others could compromise the independence of force press officers and risked them being used to provide positive publicity.

He said: "They should be kept separate. The chief constable's operational responsibility and the strategic leadership of the PCC need to be distinct.

"Merging press offices significantly undermines this separation. In the same way that PCCs are not 'police chiefs', these press office moves further create confusion."

He added: "This risks directly associating the force, its officers and staff, with a political stance, when operational policing independence is critical."

Mrs Barnes presented the change as an administrative one that was related to legislation about commissioners, which saw them assume responsibility for all the force's workforce when they were first elected.

As part of the process, commissioners have now been required as a second stage to determine which staff should be transferred back to the chief constable.

Mrs Barnes said in a statement: "The Home Secretary has approved my proposals, supported by the Chief Constable, for stage two transfers.

"I will continue to retain the employment of the staff in corporate communications and the survey team within the office of the Kent Police and Crime Commissioner."

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