General Secretary

August 2017

A GOVERNMENT IN CHAOS

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THE NEW SECRETARY OF STATE , DAVID LIDINGTON, HAS GOT OFF ON THE WRONG FOOT WITH THE POA.

Since my last article, we have seen a General Election that didn’t actually go to plan for the Tory party, and the much heralded quote of “strong and stable” turned out to be far from the truth. The deal with the Democratic Unionist Party has received much criticism from political commentators − even a former Prime Minister, John Major, who believes the British Government must be independent of the political parties in Northern Ireland.

I think POA members know only too well of the threat from terror groups in Northern Ireland and for this Government to jeopardise the peace process, which is already fragile, could once again place our members at risk. Of course there is no magic money tree to give hard-pressed public sector workers a pay rise, but £1bn fell from the tree to buy votes.

The Government are in crisis there is no doubt about it, but it would appear once again that public sector workers are the scapegoat for the financial crisis that the bankers, spivs and speculators created by gambling recklessly with our money.

The hollow praise that they give to our NHS staff, police officers, firefighters and prison staff would be laughable if it wasn’t so serious. They really do not get it that in order to stimulate the economy they need workers to spend, and the only way workers can spend is when they have disposable income.

POA members are not greedy, they just want to be treated fairly. While I am on that subject of fairness; the newly-appointed Secretary of State, David Lidington, stated: “One issue I care about is access to justice for all.” In that quote, I am not sure he means POA members as well, because some of the outrageous decisions regarding our members is anything but about getting access to justice.

Look at the case of Nick Medlin killed by a single punch at Christmas − the perpetrator got six and a half years for pleading guilty to manslaughter. Nothing can stop the pain for his family but personally, I don’t think this sentence is justice for Nick or his family.

Prison reform

The Queen’s speech was interesting because it ignored the previous legislation that reformers believed was going to have all the answers to the prison service. First David Cameron, then Michael Gove and Liz Truss, trumpeted Prison Reform agenda. To me, it doesn’t look as if the new Secretary of State seems that keen on it because it seems to have disappeared from the legislative process.

This has attracted criticism from the Prisons Inspector who said he was “very disappointed”, but was still determined to report the harsh reality of our prisons – “all too many of which are dangerous for prisoners and staff alike and are failing in their duty.”

Can you imagine if I said that publicly? I would have been accused of scaremongering and not telling the truth. The fact is, I hope the Prisons Inspector continues to tell it as it is because on most occasions, like Nick Hardwick, he has got it correct.

A lack of resources, adequate training and accountability from the very top is scandalous. I can imagine why the accountability has been dropped like a hot potato because no one actually wants to be accountable.

The service has been driven into the ground and no one takes responsibility. If that was outside industry the board of directors would have been sacked or removed a long time ago. Report after report shows the decline not just in public sector prisons but private sector prisons as well. If you haven’t read it; read the latest report into mental health in prisons by the National Audit office. It is another damning report that will be shuffled under some other papers for shredding and bonuses paid to the directors on top of their already over-inflated salaries for producing failure. That may seem harsh but unfortunately, it is true. Since 2010, the Prisons Board have failed miserably, the statistics speak for themselves and they have presided over the fiasco.

Secretary of State

Unfortunately, at the time of writing this article, I have been notified that the Secretary of State has decided to run the Union into court in an attempt to obtain a permanent injunction.

I spoke face-to-face with the new Secretary of State and I told him that the POA wanted constructive employee relations with the employer and Government, and the best way to start his new tenure was to get round the table to negotiate on pay, pension age and resolve health and safety issues together.

He listened intently and then several days later, I got the message that he had taken advice and decided to go ahead with the application for a permanent injunction.

Bearing in mind this is now the fifth Secretary of State since 2010, I assumed he would want to start on a constructive framework.

Whoever is advising him to see this through is not doing the Minister any favours. Irrespective of the outcome, Government will never ever silence the POA from protecting its members’ health and safety in any workplace. If the Secretary of State wishes (along with senior managers) to hide behind the courts every time employee relations become problematic, then it is my view that they are in the wrong job.

Injustice

I think it is time for a fresh look into how employee relations are conducted within the Prison Service. For some reason there has been a mentality from some who view the Union as the problem, instead of realising that we can also be the solution.

It almost seems cowardly to keep running to the courts. Perhaps it covers their shortcomings as managers? Some actually may need training in the art of negotiation.

The POA want constructive dialogue with all the employers we deal with but we will never roll over and have our bellies tickled when we see our members on the receiving end from injustice daily. The POA stand ready to negotiate outcomes that could bring confidence back to the service. We also believe it is in everyone’s interest to have a successful service that everyone can be proud of but in order to do that, there needs to be better employee relations and I am afraid running the Trade Union into court as regularly as the employer does, and hiding behind the robes of a judge at every opportunity hoping that the judiciary will help them out, is extremely sad and not conducive to good employee relations.

Perhaps if they spent the same energy in negotiating outcomes from staff and prisoners then we might be on the right track.

Steve Gillan
General Secretary

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