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August 2015 | 10.08.2015
LORRAINE BARWELL, CUSTODY OFFICER, SERCO
THIS DEATH OF CUSTODY OFFICER, LORRAINE BARWELL, HAS FOCUSED ATTENTION ON THE VIOLENT AND UNPREDICTABLE REALITY OF THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
Lorraine Barwell was not a member of our Union and worked for Serco, an employer that has consistently refused to recognise the POA as a trade union within their prisons and custodial service workplaces.
The POA press release published following the confirmation of her death, stressed that this unspeakable crime can never be about public good/private bad or vice versa, but confirmation again if it were ever needed, that staff within the Criminal Justice System care for and control violent criminals 24 hours a day, every day of the year in the essential protection of the public. I recognise that you can never completely eliminate risk within an operational environment, but employer and employee must do everything possible to ensure that safe systems of work and risk assessments minimise that risk. Alongside the need to minimise risk, politicians, the employer and yes, the public, need to acknowledge that serious injury with its physical and mental connotations and death itself, are an everpresent risk within prisons and related services.
I want to place my thanks on record to the executive and full time officers who engaged with the media on a difficult day, and to convey to the family, friends and colleagues of Lorraine Barwell, the support of the POA. As this article is prepared for publication, there is an ongoing police investigation and the POA cannot make further public comment at this time.
BRITAIN NEEDS A PAY RISE
AS I PREPARED THIS ARTICLE FOR PUBLICATION, THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER ANNOUNCED A FURTHER PAY FREEZE OF ONE PERCENT IN EACH OF THE NEXT FOUR YEARS FOR PUBLIC SECTOR WORKERS.
An effective reduction in the value of our take-home pay gives a lie to statements by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer that Britain needs and deserves a pay rise. Public sector workers will be aware of the award of a substantial pay rise to Members of Parliament which will only serve to increase the determination of every POA member to campaign to overturn this disgraceful and unacceptable policy announcement.
The collective bargaining arrangements on pay within the 2015 POA and NOMS Agreement will now take on even greater significance. The executive would expect to be in a position to update the membership on areas where we have reached agreement, including pay, through collective bargaining arrangements by the next edition of Gatelodge magazine.
On 23 June, in response to MP’s questions on justice, the Prison Minister responded: “I believe that prison officers are among the unsung heroes of the public sector. Day in day out, they do amazing work in protecting the public.”
Well, Mr Selous and Mr Spurr, if you do recognise our contribution on behalf of society, pay prison staff appropriately.
MEETING WITH THE JUSTICE SECRETARY
FOLLOWING ON FROM THE ELECTION VICTORY OF THE CONSERVATIVE PARTY, THE PRIME MINISTER APPOINTED MICHAEL GOVE AS THE JUSTICE SECRETARY. ANDREW SELOUS WILL CONTINUE IN HIS ROLE AS PRISON MINISTER.
An initial telephone conference was held with the Justice Secretary and together with the General Secretary, and on behalf of the POA, we met with him on 7July, 2015. Any agenda put together for a meeting with the Justice Secretary would by necessity be extensive. Among the items discussed at the meeting with the Justice Secretary were the following:
° Violence in prisons;
° Pension age;
° Pay Review Body;
° Budget cuts;
° Recruitment and retention; and
° The Harris Review.
The agenda items do not of course stand in isolation given that budget cuts will, by definition, impact on violence in prisons, pay, recruitment and retention of staff and pension age.
In his first speech as Justice Secretary, Michael Gove referred to our “creaking and dysfunctional justice system”. He went on to say that he wanted to “make our prisons places of rehabilitation, which gave those who have made the wrong choices opportunities for redemption; to help offenders when they leave custody to make the right choices and contribute to society; to rescue young offenders, and those who may be on the path to offending, from a life of crime.”
So far so good, but no different and as predictable as every other speech that we have had from a succession of Justice Ministers since the MOJ, alongside the experimental and vanity project of NOMS were separated from the direct oversight of the Home Office.
If Mr Gove had been in any doubt as to the task ahead, in June, the Prison Inspectorate published its report into conditions at HMP Pentonville. The inspection described conditions of ‘shocking squalor’ and high levels of violence and drug abuse. Indeed the levels of violence had doubled since their last visit and in the previous six months, there had been 185 assaults, 66 of which had been on staff and 119 on prisoners. The report went on to point to a ‘failure of management and leadership’. There was reference to staff sickness and staff shortages. The POA has reminded politicians and the media that staff at HMP Pentonville continue to do a magnificent job in the circumstances. They cannot be expected to perform miracles without appropriate resources. The POA were promised safe, secure and decent prisons. Welcome to the reality of the Criminal Justice System Mr Gove.
Mr Gove will certainly not be short of advice given the number of advisors who were in attendance at our meeting with him. Advice can of course be invaluable but advice gained from the experience of staff working within the creaking and dysfunctional justice system can, and will, provide the reality check necessary for a newly appointed minister. If the Minister does want to rely on a coterie of advisors then that is a matter for him and the public purse, but he must also have advisors who possess sound and current operational experience. If the advisors turn out to have connections now or in the past with private companies and are retired NOMS officials and former politicians with an antipathy towards the public sector and trade unions, then we call upon the Justice Secretary to re-address the balance. We cannot return to a position in which the decision-makers have learnt nothing but at the same time forgotten nothing.
With regard to privatisation, the Minister insisted that he would not be driven by ideology with regard to the role of the private sector in providing services within the Criminal Justice System. Well, time will tell. Meanwhile, the POA has reminded the Minister that all of the available evidence proves conclusively that privatisation has not provided the more effective and cost effective model of justice as promised.
Mr Gove has been described in an article in The Observer newspaper as a maverick and an anti-status quo man with a controversial capacity to think outside the box and break the rules. I fervently hope that we will not hear the Justice Secretary described as a visionary, as that would really set the alarm bells ringing. Nevertheless, the pen picture provided by The Observer will concentrate minds in NOMS and in the trade unions. The POA therefore welcomes the news that Phil Copple has taken up a post in the MOJ’s new strategy unit to develop the direction for future prison reform. NOMS have recognised the necessity of ensuring that the Justice Secretary and his advisors are fully aware of the operational challenges that we have to manage in the essential protection of the public.
The POA reiterated to the Justice Secretary that we supported the sound bite of the rehabilitation revolution promised to the public by his predecessor, Kenneth Clarke. However, with the budget cuts already imposed and with more to come in this Parliament, rehabilitation of any sort, let alone a revolution in rehabilitation will be impossible to achieve. Following on from the £500 million taken from the 2014/2015 budget, the MOJ’s overall budget will this year have a four percent reduction. Given the cuts to defence spending of £500 million, £450 million in education and £400 million in transport, business, innovation and skills the circa £250 million reduction in the MOJ budget is a deep and significant cut. The Director General is on record as saying that front line expenditure will be protected. Given that the strategy to reduce the MOJ budget will see certain capital projects revisited, the renegotiation of commercial contracts and a restriction in the use of consultants and agency staff there is likely to be an impact on us all.
Mr Gove needs to recognise that cuts to the MOJ budget have gone too far and the established statistics on assaults and deaths in custody prove this beyond any doubt. He has recognised that the justice system is dysfunctional but persuading the Treasury to free up funds to enable this operational service to function will be more important still. Focus groups are all well and good but cannot provide the panacea. On behalf of the POA, I congratulate Michael Gove on his appointment as Justice Secretary and call upon him to work with the trade unions to create a Criminal Justice System that provides the staff, prisoners and the public with confidence.