Kent police commissioner Ann Barnes is facing questions over an office move that cost close to £180,000. Mrs Barnes has defended the expenditure, saying that in the long term it will cost the taxpayer less money than had she stayed where she was. The Mail on Sunday reported how the commissioner spent £150,000 excluding VAT on a move last summer from her office at Gail House, in Lower Stone Street, to Kent Police headquarters in Sutton Road – less than two miles away.
The newspaper reported that as part of the office move, Mrs Barnes had a sound-proofed studio installed with the latest ISDN connections so she could do live radio interviews. It said there was an identical facility yards away in the control room of the police HQ site. Although the move took place last summer, Mrs Barnes is continuing to pay rent on her old offices in Gail House – £59,000 a year – until this June. Details of the costs were published by the commissioner on Friday, apparently in an attempt head off the criticism. She posted a statement on her website, headed: “Public money set to be saved after office move”.
The commissioner wrote: “Had I renewed the Maidstone office contract it would have been one of the most expensive buildings on the police estate. “I just couldn't justify this during times of police cuts. The move from Maidstone town centre to the excess space at Kent Police HQ will save around £250k over the next five years, and even more in the years after that.” The statement added: “It made perfect sense to me, as I hope it does to you, to use excess space at Kent Police HQ. The force, as everyone knows, has lost almost a fifth of its workforce in this round of government cuts to police funding.
“The move has also eliminated additional, on-going costs to the public purse by reducing constant travel expenses, not to mention the opportunity costs of everyone's time. The new office is, quite rightly, compliant with disability access.” However, the detailed financial information she posted on Friday appears not to have yet been recorded in the invoice transactions that commissioners are required under transparency rules to publish for items of expenditure over £500.
The only relevant items detailed were expenditure of £826 to a company called Gilbert and Stamper, which related to the installation of computers in her new office. A second was £1,408 paid to a local removals firm. Cllr Rupert Turpin, vice-chairman of the Kent Police and Crime Panel which scrutinises the PCC, said: “The public will be mystified as to how the rhetoric of leaving no stone unturned to save the jobs of front line officers has turned into the reality of no-expense-spared office moves, duplicating radio studios and expensive media consultancy.
“Perhaps the media consultants can advise Mrs Barnes to come clean to the people of Kent about her excessive expenditure.”