National Chair

April 2012 | 17.04.2012

Fair and Sustainable

pjaddress.jpg

The result of the recent ballot of the membership with regard to the new working structures has now been published.

As I expected, the membership has recognised, in these uncertain and unprecedented economic times the need to protect the pay and terms and conditions of current uniformed staff. In any analysis a positive vote in excess of 80 percent of those who voted is an endorsement of the NEC decision to engage with the employer on change within the carefully constructed parameters of conference policy.

Fair and Sustainable remains the employer‘s document and should not be viewed as the panacea or remedy for all of the problems we face. Nevertheless, the life–time pay protection and the guarantee to protect uniformed grades from compulsory redundancy is an unprecedented achievement for this Trade Union.

I am aware that there are members who continue to have concerns with certain aspects of the document. The NEC will continue to seek  improvements to the document to reflect those concerns. For example, in recent weeks, the Executive has been successful with regard to the banding of hospital officers and with an aspect of the contractual obligations that had been signed on appointment by the then Officer 2 grades. Challenges will remain but certainly, to date, the persuasive skills of the current NEC continue to produce negotiated improvements to the document. The NEC is only able to do this because the positive ballot result ensured that the Fair and Sustainable Document is a collective agreement.

Local pay

In my last article in Gatelodge (February 2012 issue, page 4) I made reference to the decision of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to invite the heads of the pay review bodies to report on the feasibility of introducing local pay arrangements. So what does this mean? In essence, in the future pay may be based on the cost of living in different geographical areas, based on (for example) travel to work costs and salary comparisons with private sector employers. Remember, the template for this latest initiative is the current arrangements within the court service. These arrangements are not the usual and somewhat crude north–south divide. It is far more complicated than that. In effect this template would potentially endanger national pay rates for prison staff , teachers, nurses and other civil servants. It remains the view of the NEC that differential pay rates are an excuse to drive down public sector pay rates and a potential recipe for further privatisation. The Coalition Government has recognised that differential pay rates are the model of choice for private sector employers.

In his letter to the pay review bodies, the Chancellor has directed them to take into account a number of factors including whether any future proposals should apply to existing staff and/or to new entrants. The POA will provide well researched and comprehensive written evidence in order to assist the Prison Service Pay Review Body in reaching its conclusions. In addition, the POA will attend the oral evidence sessions which have now been scheduled by the secretariat of the Prison Service Pay Review Body.

We continue to maintain that the Fair and Sustainable Document has provided pay reform within the prison service throughout England and Wales. There is no need for further pay reform. The POA will continue to emphasise to politicians and indeed the immediate employer that the prison service must be able to recruit, retain and motivate able and qualified staff throughout the UK.

The Fair and Sustainable Document then has the potential to protect our membership from the dangers of local pay. As the NEC has maintained from the beginning, the Fair and Sustainable Document can provide concomitant benefits for the membership. We will, of course, keep the membership updated and informed.

Revised working structures

The employer will now move to introduce the revised working structures.

The POA recognises that the introduction of the revised working structures is the responsibility of the employer. Nevertheless, the employer must recognise that the success of the new arrangements will depend as ever on the cooperation of prison staff . The employer will need to convince staff that the structures will be effective in providing safe, secure and effective places of work. As one example, I look to management to ensure that the importance of the work of the supervisory officer rank is recognised and understood. In my opinion, this role will be pivotal in the delivery of that safe, secure and effective working environment.

As we prepare this edition of Gatelodge magazine the initial feedback from the three early adopter sites is positive. The NEC will continue to monitor this process as it unfolds and will engage with the employer to support local branches.

Market testing

The need to provide the basis for competitive bids was one of the determining factors in the decision of the NEC to endorse the Fair and Sustainable document. As readers of this magazine, you will be well aware of our views on competition policy but colleagues, whether we like it or not, the Business Advisory Group had to be provided with the opportunity to win. I would remind you that under current Government policy all of our public sector prisons will be subject to the competition process.

In recent weeks, announcements have been made that the public sector Prison Service has entered into partnership arrangements with MITIE Group PLC, the Shaw Trust and Working Links.

The Shaw Trust and Working Links are regarded as third sector organisations and currently provide services in prisons and public sector organisations. The Head of the Public Sector Business Development Group, Ian Mulholland, is on record saying that these two organisations will help to develop the Payment by Results part of the bids. All aspects of the bid process are important but there is no doubt that the Government places great significance on the Payment by Results model of rehabilitation. In my opinion, utilising the skills of these organisations in helping to developing a professional and compelling bid in this aspect of the competition can only be beneficial.

The partnership with MITIE (a strategic outsource and energy services company which currently provides services within a number of public sector prisons) is a significant development. Prior to the announcement MITIE had announced its intention to bid for a number of prisons in this round of the competition process. Instead, MITIE will now partner the public sector prison service as they put together bids to manage all nine prisons.

As National Chairman, I accept that the public sector needs to submit competitive and winning bids. I further recognise that this partnership arrangement has effectively removed a competitor from the process. The NEC has taken note of the press release announcing this significant and ground breaking partnership. Steve Wagstaffe, the Director of Public Sector Prisons stated: “Public servants will be responsible for the core operational work in running prisons and a number of key services will be delivered by MITIE under the contract.”

As we go to press, a meeting has been arranged between members of the Executive, the Business Development Group and representatives of MITIE. We recognise that the employer has to adhere to the constraints placed upon it by the commercial, in confidence conditions contained within competition policy. Nevertheless, the NEC on behalf of the membership will now seek clarification on the employer’s interpretation of key services.

Unlike the seemingly never–ending process endured by the prisons in the last competition, this time, formal bids need to be submitted in April. The competition timetable then provides for a final round of the process in the summer and a decision in the autumn.

Mutuality

The Coalition Government and indeed the Labour Party support the idea that businesses in the private sector can be owned by employees. John Lewis is the example often pointed to by politicians as being the successful model for this form of ownership. Arguably, mutuality is not a form of privatisation but an alternative that should be considered where privatisation is seen as contentious and difficult to implement. It should come as no surprise that the Government is keen to explore all options within the public sector.

It has been brought to the attention of the NEC that investigative work has been undertaken on the viability of this concept within two public sector prisons. In effect, if the mutual model were ever to be adopted a prison would contract independently and directly with NOMS.

As you would expect, on receipt of this information we raised our concerns with the employer and provided definitive advice to the membership. There are issues within mutuality which are clearly outside the remit of the trade unions and public sector employers being enshrined in legislation and the Principle Civil Service Pension Scheme. The NEC was further disappointed that NOMS did not enter into any formal consultation with any of the recognised trade unions within the workplace.

We have now received assurances that any resources allocated to this investigative work will not impact on front line operations. A viable alternative to the threat of wholesale privatisation would be welcome but we do not believe that the concept of mutuality can be fit for purpose within prisons.

Prison population

The NEC continues to raise with Ministers and NOMS its concern at the rise in the population and the lack of available space. There has been extensive media coverage of the POA view that this is a crisis and that a strategic approach to the problem is needed. We remain unconvinced that the new places opening in March and April will ease the pressure on the prison estate. That pressure does not directly affect politicians and desk bound civil servants. Prison staff are not responsible for the significant growth in the population since the public disorder in August but they have to cope with the consequences. We remind Ministers and politicians that it is their responsibility to provide a safe operating level within prisons, they are aware of our concerns and we will not accept any excuses.

Justice and protection for prison officers

We continue in our attempts to challenge and change the perception that the public and politicians have of the work we do as an essential front line service. In January, together with the Deputy General Secretary, we met with Craig Wylde and members of his family. You will recall that Craig was one of our members assaulted at HMP Frankland and that the prisoner was found not guilty at the subsequent court case. The Wylde family were in London to meet with Crispin Blunt, Parliamentary Under–Secretary of State for Justice. Along with Craig and his family we continue to emphasise that compensation is important but so too is justice. Kenneth Clarke is on record that prison officers deserve the fullest possible protection that we as a society can give them. Our role on behalf of society is a challenging one and we have a legitimate expectation that it should be recognised as such.

PJ McParlin
National Chairman