Bedfordshire’s police and crime commissioner is calling for the regulations governing council tax referendums to be reviewed as a “matter of urgency”, claiming they do not ensure a “fair democratic process”.
Earlier this month voters in Bedford and Luton BCs and Central Bedfordshire Council voted 2-1 against the 15.8% increase in the police force’s element of the council tax proposed by Olly Martins (Lab).
However, in a letter sent to communities secretary Greg Clark last week Mr Martins complained the regulations under the Localism Act 2011 were overly restrictive and prevented him from making the case for the increase ahead of the referendum.
Mr Martins had claimed the increase was necessary to fund an additional 100 police officers, to mitigate against cuts in government funding and to support the force in dealing with increasing threats from terrorism.
Under the regulations, this information could not be made available on the ballot paper and Mr Martins was restricted in what he could say when campaigning for the increase.
He wrote: “I accept that there is an obvious need to prevent organisations from using public office to ‘campaign’. However, this needs to be balanced against the requirement that for a fair democratic process to take place, people need to be aware of the issues and proper public debate takes place.”
Mr Martins also complained about the fact the increase had to be applied on 1 May, which meant his office now had to bear the cost of rebilling residents, something he described as an “exercise in bureaucratic excess”. The cost of the referendum and rebilling is £600,000.
He said many residents had assumed this was arrogance or that the 15.8% increase they were being asked to vote on was on top of the increase already applied.
Mr Martins said: “If I were a cynical individual, I might conclude the regulations have been designed to ensure the result of any referendum was concluded prior to any vote taking place.”
He added: “I believe the experience of the referendum held in Bedfordshire shows that the regulations in their current form are inadequate for ensuring a fair democratic process and should be reviewed and amended as a matter of urgency.”
Mr Martins has also written to the Electoral Commission urging it to review the regulations.
A spokeswoman for the DCLG said: “The question used in the council tax referendum was written having consulted the Electoral Commission and approved by Parliament.
“The Bedfordshire council tax referendum enabled a public debate on how the county’s police commissioner spends local taxpayers’ money. Residents have had their say and their views will now be respected.”
The referendum question:
Part of the council tax in your area goes to the Bedfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner.
For the financial year beginning on 1st April 2015 the Bedfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner has set an increase of 15.8% in the amount it charges.
If most voters choose ‘yes’, the increase will be 15.8%.
If most voters choose ‘no’, the increase will be 2.0%.
Do you want the Bedfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner to increase the amount it charges by 15.8%?