Kent’s Police and Crime Commissioner Ann Barnes has issued a plea to residents for increased funding for more armed officers.
Her unprecedented call for households to pay an extra £5 each comes as the financially-stretched force faces a 0.6% cut to its government grant this year, leaving a £13.5 million funding shortfall.
According to the Commissioner, the additional charge would be delivered through a rise in council tax. This would enable the recruitment of a further 37 armed officers within Kent.
Mrs Barnes said the measure was necessary as a public safety priority, ensuring the county’s police force is of adequate size and able to protect its borders with Europe.
However, she confirmed there would be public consultation on the issue this month before a final decision is made.
The Commissioner said the government’s funding was “much better than had been expected” in George Osborne’s recent financial review. But she highlighted the fact successive police budget cuts had resulted in 544 fewer Kent officers and 612 fewer support staff than five years ago.
She said: “We have to put 37 more firearms officers on the books, so that is why I’m launching a consultation about raising an average family’s council tax precept by £5 for the year to pay for them. Only the 10 forces in the country with the lowest council tax precepts have been given this option and even then people in Kent would still be paying much less for their policing service than most people.
“The Government has made it clear it is expecting Commissioners to increase their council tax precept as far as they are being allowed to do, but as far as I am concerned it is a matter for the people of Kent to make their views known before any decision is made here in the county.”
She added that £3.5 million of existing financial reserves would be used towards paying for the new officers. There are also plans for further efficiency savings within the force.
She also explained that there remained a number of emerging challenges on budgets, such as tackling child sexual exploitation and cyber-crime, as well as an ongoing terrorist threat.
Mrs Barnes said a terror attack in the UK “remained highly likely” which had prompted the Home Secretary to request all police forces should double the number of armed officers in their ranks.
Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, expressed his concerns that the council tax increase was unnecessary.
He said: “Budgets are tight throughout the public sector and it should be incumbent on all those pulling the purse-strings to concentrate on delivering better value out of existing budgets rather than seeking to raise taxes. A higher precept would hit the poorest hardest and should be resisted while there is capacity for making reasonable savings elsewhere.”
Labour parliamentary candidate for Tunbridge Wells, Kevin Kerrigan, said he would follow guidance from senior police over numbers of armed officers, but believed any additional costs were a government responsibility.
He said: “Over the last five years the government have cut some 18% from policing budgets and this has resulted in thousands of police officers jobs being lost across all UK forces.
“National security is the responsibility of the government and it is not good enough for Tory ministers to wash their hands of national security and push the responsibility on to local councils.”
Liberal Democrat borough councillor Hugh Patterson supported the idea of council tax being used to directly fund more police firearms officers.
He said: “I think taxpayers should in fact be consulted even more on what their tax is going towards.
“I don’t have an issue with funding going towards more police officers, but I am not sure armed officers would be as much of an issue in rural area like ours compared with protecting shoppers at Bluewater, or places such as Medway.”
The consultation will end Friday 15 January 2016. To register your views visit www.kent-pcc.gov.uk/take-part.html
How many armed officers does Kent have?
Kent Police presently has 74 armed officers operating across the county. The government is calling for a 50% increase in firearms capacity within each force.
Is this the only police authority in England asking for this extra £5?
No. The 10 forces charging the lowest council tax precepts have been offered the opportunity by Government to raise their precepts by £5 per property. There is no stipulation on what the extra £5 per household must be spent on – but in Kent the intention would be to use the extra money to increase firearms numbers.
How much will the £5 generate?
Around £2.7 million would be gained through the extra £5 being asked from each homeowner.