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February 2017 | 31.01.2017
WE ARE FACING TOUGH BATTLES
I HOPE THAT ALL OF YOU WERE ABLE TO SPEND SOME TIME ENJOYING THE FESTIVITIES WITH FAMILIES AND FRIENDS, AND I WOULD LIKE TO TAKE THIS OPPORTUNITY TO WISH YOU ALL A VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR.
The lead up to Christmas was certainly eventful with both riots at HMP Birmingham and HMP Swaleside dominating the news headlines. I think it is essential to note how bravely staff acted in both of these riots to restore order and control, this reaches from the Tornado trained prison officers who cleared the landings and secured the prisoners back into cells or onto transport, the negotiators in securing peaceful resolutions, non-operational staff supporting the background management, OSGs, management grades and ultimately, the staff that were on duty when the violence erupted that did everything possible to minimise the damage to both property and individuals. This is work we are thankfully, rarely called in to deal with, although sadly appearing to be on the increase, and to have restored order so quickly and with minimal injury to staff or prisoners is a real credit to the professionalism of prison staff.
The media have given our dire situation much coverage and I believe we have garnered necessary public support to highlight our plight that is so often buried so deep and out of reach, this, however, in turn will be upsetting the ‘establishment’ within the halls of Westminster and we should be mindful that we need to focus on the long-term strategy to bring about positive change in the direction of the Secure Custodial Estate.
Protecting and promoting our members
No journey is ever free from danger and as we push on the issues that matter most to us, we will face tougher battles that are not fought on the ground in the arena we specialise in but instead, will be taken to the media via the political spin machine. We must continue to protect and promote our members from the lowest form of character assassination and attempts to damage our credibility in the eyes of the public. The most salient point for me, having met with a number of other interested organisations now, is that we have been able to secure the narrative that we need more staff who are supported by better pay and retained for their experience for the future to bring about safe prisons that are operationally stable.
As we move in to 2017, we must continue to focus our objectives, the White Paper on ‘Prison Safety and Reform’ will soon begin its parliamentary process into becoming Government policy and the foundation of our work. We must engage with politicians in both houses to influence the direction and indeed the narrative going forward, to ensure our concerns and fears over custodial policy are not forgotten or the opportunity is missed for another generation. Of course, it troubles me greatly that neither the POA, or indeed our members, are ever fully consulted before political policy is written and we are considered an afterthought or non-essential member of the process in developing policy and strategy for the future.
We must also continue to strive to seek a long-term solution to additional hours working with NOMS, addressing the very real threat of safety concerns and recruitment and retention of staff in both the public and private sector of all our representative workplaces. We must also focus on fairness and parity in dealing with our members via the internal policy and processes, we have seen a quick deterioration in safeguards that have been removed and new policy forced upon us through wider civil service reforms or indeed because of political ideology, we will need to respond to these attacks on our working conditions.
The ballot result on REFORM was an overwhelming rejection, the membership has spoken and we have clear direction from our membership that the offer was seen as derisory, inadequate and unsatisfactory.
Government and NOMS have been clear that they intend to press on with their REFORM agenda with or without our agreement and so we have to establish our response if there is to be no further offer in respect to pay, pension and local dispute resolution for our affected membership following our meeting with the Secretary of State in January. As part of this process, I hope that every member of the POA has put their ideas and frustrations to their local committees and that we see good motions coming from the floor at this year’s conference to drive the policy of the Union forward for the benefit of our members. The deadline for conference motions to be with the General Secretary is 31st January or submitted at least three months before conference is due to commence as per the rules. Throughout this process, the POA may need to call on our members for their continued support if our issues and concerns are to be continually ignored and I ask that you remain patient and supportive of the NEC stance as we continue to fight for our rights and members going forward.
I have continued to visit a number of establishments and have visited Whatton, Glen Parva, Preston, Frankland, Berwyn, Pentonville, Woodhill, Lewes, Grendon & Springhill, Lancaster Farms and Oakwood since my last column. My diary is already filling up towards the beginning of April and I intend to continue visiting branches to deliver our message and meet with members personally so please keep emailing in if you wish to arrange a visit via firstname.lastname@example.org