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June 2016 | 01.06.2016
SHAPING OUR FUTURE
THIS IS MY FIRST GATELODGE ART I C L E AS YOUR NEW NATIONAL CHAIR. IT HAS BEEN A VERY SHORT-LIVED HONEYMOON PERIOD WITH SEVERAL BIG ANNOUNCEMENTS THAT FOLLOWED HASTILY A F T E R I TOOK OVER FROM THE PREVIOUS NATIONAL CHAIRMAN AT THE CLOSE OF CONFERENCE; THIS HAS KEPT ME EXTREMELY BUSY.
I have been busy picking up on negotiations that the previous National Chairman had ongoing in regard to reform and setting NEC teams for pieces of work which are about to start. That being said, I have thoroughly enjoyed my first few weeks in my new role and I will be steadily setting the tone to mould things into the direction that I believe you, our members want.
The POA is an under-resourced organisation and everyone from the office cleaner to me as National Chair are busy trying to ensure the Union runs day-to-day. This leaves precious little time for initiatives and the necessary changes to take place to iron out any little imperfections. I assure you that I will work hard with the General Secretary, NEC, FTOs and support staff to bring about change to shape and adapt the POA to best meet the members’ needs in future. The membership’s interests must be put at the top of the agenda.
The theme of this year’s conference was ‘Shaping our Future’ and from the Queen’s speech on the 18th May to the announcements previously made by the Prime Minister in February, it is clear that there is an agenda to reform prisons through autonomy and replace existing establishments with new establishments. The POA must decide where its position is within the ideology that is being discussed. Whatever the final look of a reformed prison system is, the POA must continue to use its might to influence, persuade and cultivate media and ministers, along with the wider public to understand the roles, recognise the difficult and dangerous work and resource our establishments safely, regardless of sector and indeed regardless of prison, IRC, detention centre, escort services, special hospitals or any other definition of secure custodial environment in which POA members are present.
To this end, we as a Union have had to once again condemn the closure of an establishment. HMP Kennet will close permanently from July 2017 and our sympathies go to the staff working hard there that now face uncertainty for the future. The POA will support those staff as we have done throughout all previous closures. The cost cutting just never seems to end and the potential to alleviate overcrowded prisons by keeping existing prisons open as new ones come online seems to have been missed by the Secretary of State. We had earlier in the same week welcomed the additional £10m allocated by Michael Gove to tackle ‘prison safety issues’ although citing this money was a long way off from what is needed to bring about safe, decent and secure environments, only to be met with the inevitable closure of a prison establishment to no doubt fund these new initiatives. The £10m for prison safety issues, whilst welcomed, is comparable to putting a sticking plaster on the wound of someone who has just had a limb amputated and clearly will not scratch the surface of a prison system that is on route to catastrophe.
I, as National Chair want to place on record my thanks to those individual POA members that were able to support their colleagues during the activation of Motion 72/2014 and for withdrawing from Payment Plus for a period of one calendar month. Although I recognise the divisive nature of this motion in opinion, the support shown is a step in the right direction away from the apathy that has plagued our Union over the last few years. We must continue to unite together and work towards our common goals.
“You should always support your union when policy is adopted it may not instantly benefit you, in fact it may benefit someone else who is a member but the important thing is sticking together and that unity will in the end benefit us all”.
I have since the adoption of this Motion in 2014 stated that I will not ask my members to make a personal sacrifice without also making one myself and so on the 6th June I transferred £1,000 into the POA welfare fund to show my solidarity with those that had made personal sacrifices during the month of the ban.
2016 so far seems to be the year where members are standing up and being counted from the PP withdrawal to the individuals that have decided to protect their own personal safety. Wetherby, Wormwood Scrubs, Holme House, The Mount and Swinfen Hall at the time of going to press have all had difficult issues to contend with and staff working within these establishments have not been afraid to say when enough is enough. I commend those staff on placing their personal health and safety before taking risk and although several injunctions have been avoided each individual member has not taken these steps lightly and without personal loss.
The POA must continue to place the necessary pressure on the employer and Government to act and ensure prisons are safe and decent for staff, visitors and prisoners incarcerated within them. We must not be afraid to ask for what is right and sensible and we must go to the negotiating table demanding that basic right at every level within the POA.
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