National Chair

October 2012 | 16.10.2012

How the POA fights for its members' rights

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At the TUC Annual Conference the POA was pleased to move Motion 5 calling for consideration of the practicalities of a general strike. Following a lively debate the motion was adopted by the TUC and it has received extensive and on-going press and media coverage. The NEC speaker, Steve Gillan, persuaded the TUC that given the attack on hard-won employment rights, that consideration of a general strike would be a reminder to politicians of the determination of the trade union movement to force a change in policy.

The NEC sees the adoption of Motion 5 as a part of the strategy to defeat the pension imposition, the on-going pay freeze and the attack on employment rights. The recent rejection of the final offer on pensions by the POA membership forms a further part of our strategy. You will recall that the result of the ballot was clear and unambiguous. It confirmed our view that a pensionable age of 68 is inappropriate within an essential and uniformed service. It confirmed that the increase in pension contributions is causing real hardship in the midst of the on-going pay freeze. Effectively, with the ballot result, the membership has instructed the POA to continue to exert pressure on the Coalition Government to revisit their pension imposition. I take this opportunity to reiterate again that the POA is not a one trick pony To win we must have a broad strategy with many and diverse strands.

To reinforce the message that austerity is not working and as a part of our strategy to convince politicians and the public that there is a fairer alternative; we hope to see as many of you as possible at the march and rally on 20 October 2012 in London. To date, the Coalition Government has been predictable in its response to calls for a change in policy. Austerity has failed and needs to be replaced by an economic plan that works for all.

We were pleased that the POA was able to convince the General Council of the TUC to support its motion. That support helped to convince many undecided trade unions of the merit of our motion. The POA has worked tirelessly in recent months to gain that support. As National Chairman, in my personal opinion, a failure to adopt Motion 5 would have brought into question the effectiveness of the TUC as an organisation representing organised labour. I remind the membership that the call for the consideration of the practicalities of a general strike is not a trade dispute. The call for a general strike is now a political dispute to be determined and led by the TUC. The NEC will keep you updated on the progress of Motion 5.

Alongside Motion 5 the POA delegation moved a motion on diversion strategies for the mentally ill within the criminal justice system. The motion delivered by Steve Bostock received unanimous support from the conference delegates. Ralph Valerio, with his customary eloquence, spoke in support of an FBU motion “Stop the Cuts”.

The delegation participated in a number of fringe meetings that took place throughout the conference week. I put on record my thanks to the delegation for their professional approach and I hope that Steve Wrighton of Bullingdon and Jaswinder Singh Nagra of Sudbury found the experience worthwhile. (See their report on page 26 of this issue of Gatelodge).

The POA is now preparing for the party political conferences. For the second year running the POA has sponsored a series of fringe meetings in order to raise its profile among politicians, interest groups within the criminal justice system and the general public. The theme of the fringe meetings is the future of the criminal justice system and the next edition of Gatelodge will contain a report back on these fringe meetings.

Cabinet reshuffle

Following the Cabinet reshuffle, Justice Minister, Kenneth Clarke, has been replaced by the Employment Minister, Christopher Grayling. Mr Clarke reminded me of the Bourbons. I am not referring to the biscuits but the French 19th Century ruling elite of the same name. It was said of them on their return to power that they had learnt nothing from their period in the political wilderness but had also forgotten nothing. Mr Clarke believed that policy could be introduced by rhetoric and grandiose pronouncements. His call for a rehabilitation revolution could not be achieved alongside the savage cuts to budgetary expenditure and with the chaos of prison privatisation and the outsourcing of the probation service. Again, the policy of payment by results may well be the panacea for rehabilitation but to date there is no consistent evidence and data to support the initiative. With Mr Clarke’s ingrained suspicion of trade unions, our efforts, for example, to convince him of the merits of performance testing as a realistic alternative to competition policy were ignored.

Crispin Blunt, the Prison Minister, has also been replaced in the reshuffle. He engaged at every opportunity with the POA and on occasion supported and sympathised with our views. His tenure as Prison Minister was one of the longest in recent times. Once again, a Prison Minister who has an overview of his portfolio and has established working relationships with the unions and interest groups has been replaced.

The new Justice Minister, Mr Grayling, is referred to in sections of the popular press as the “attack dog” of the Coalition Government. The POA will be happy to accompany him on long walks to discuss policy considerations within the criminal justice system. Hopefully he will not feel the need to attack the hard working employees who perform an essential service on behalf of the public. The POA has issued a press release and congratulated Mr Grayling on his appointment. Within the press release we called upon the new Justice Minister to revisit the decisions made by successive administrations that have undermined the morale and effectiveness of criminal justice workers. Workers within the criminal justice system know that without joined up thinking there will be no rehabilitation revolution. Mr Grayling - as you visit prisons; take the opportunity to listen and learn from our members, the professionals in the workplace.

By way of introduction, the new Prisons Minister, Jeremy Wright, contacted the NEC within hours of his appointment. We now look forward to meeting the new ministerial team. We have a lot to discuss.

Competition

The announcement on preferred bidder status has been delayed yet again. The POA can accept that following the reshuffle the new ministerial team needs to understand the nuances of its portfolio. The lessons from the unacceptable delay that characterised the Birmingham and Buckley Hall market tests have been acknowledged by the employer and by politicians. Yet once again staff have been left in limbo, anxious and frustrated by the delay. If the competition process, in its current format is to continue, the effect on staff within a stressed operational environment of these unacceptable delays must not only be acknowledged but addressed.

Wellingborough

The decision to close HMP Wellingborough was received with understandable anger by the POA. Once again a public asset is in danger of being thrown away on the basis of the dubious interpretation of financial statistics. If we were to believe that £50million was necessary to maintain HMP Wellingborough as suitable accommodation, this compares favourably with the exorbitant cost of building HMP Thameside. Politicians, of course, continually hide behind the ideology of ‘private good public bad’. Yet over the August bank holiday period the Serco-run HMP Thameside refused to accept prisoners sent to them by the courts. Acute, and we understand on-going staffing problems necessitated these prisoners being accommodated by the public sector. On his first day in office the Prison Minister visited HMP Thameside. The POA has called upon Mr Wright to seek answers for this serious failure of Serco to fulfil their obligations to the British public.

Following a demonstration through the streets of Wellingborough a number of staff attended a debate on the closure in the House of Commons on 5 September 2012. Prior to the debate, staff from the prison, residents and representatives of the town council held a protest meeting opposite the Houses of Parliament. With members of the executive and PCS officials in attendance the media coverage was extensive. Through the pages of the Gatelodge, I take this opportunity as National Chairman to acknowledge the contribution of Martin Field and the committee at Wellingborough in the on-going campaign to highlight the stupidity of the decision to close the prison.

The POA has noted with interest the answer given by the new Justice Minister when asked what steps he would take to reduce the size of the prison population. Mr Grayling said that rehabilitation was “absolutely at the top of the agenda” but that he had no plans to reduce the prison population. If that answer indicates a change in direction then the prison closure policy must be revisited and the decision to close HMP Wellingborough overturned. (To read more about the campaign to save Wellingborough, turn to page 12).

NORTHERN IRELAND

Members of the Executive have recently visited HMP Maghaberry. Given the distinct difficulties of managing prisoners in Northern Ireland the professionalism and good humour in evidence was remarkable. Following the branch visit and meeting we attended an area meeting of the Northern Ireland committee under the Chairmanship of Finlay Spratt. Attending and participating in a structured meeting gave a further insight into the issues within an evolving prison estate. We look forward to our next meeting when we will be meeting with the recently appointed Director General, Sue McAllister. Thank you to the staff and committee at HMP Maghaberry for your patience and hospitality during our visit.

The prison service in Northern Ireland has announced that HMP Magilligan will be closed and replaced with a new prison nearer to Belfast. Apart from operational considerations; the closure of HMP Magilligan will have serious economic consequences for the area. Sound familiar? A new for old policy in terms of prison provision is not as straightforward as it might first appear. Finlay has been in contact with me and the General Secretary as the campaign to overturn the decision gathers momentum.

THE MOORLAND RIOTS

I make no apology for reproducing here a branch circular from the POA committee to the branch following the conclusion of the judicial process following the riots in November 2010:

“Your committee wish to place on record our thanks to the colleagues that gave evidence in these trials and recognise the personal trauma which this has caused. We also recognise the vital role the care team played in the support they gave to our colleagues whilst at court and issues that are still on-going.

We hope to never experience this again but it shows the professionalism that exists within this establishment in times of need between all grades. We will ensure that our NEC is aware of the trial outcomes and the professional manner which you all conducted yourselves. You are a credit to the service.”

Through the pages of Gatelodge the NEC takes this opportunity to thank all those involved in ensuring that significant sentences have been given to the criminals who were involved in the riots.

Rehabilitation has its place in the criminal justice system but so too has appropriate punishment.

PAY

The Prison Minister has written to me, in my capacity as National Chairman, enclosing a copy of his letter to the Chairman of the Pay Review Body to commission the process for the 2013/14 pay round.

The Minister has determined that it is not necessary to issue a formal remit letter this year. In his opinion there are no exceptional circumstances to be considered in the 2013/14 pay round. The POA welcomes this decision, as in the past the issue of the remit letter has compromised the independence of the Pay Review Body. All well and good, but the Pay Review Body has been asked to make its recommendations within the context of Government policy on public sector pay. To remind you, Government policy states that public sector pay awards should average one percent for the next two years. Unlike last year, the Pay Review Body will consider pay awards across the remit group

Members of the Executive met with Peter Knight, the Chairman of the Pay Review Body, for a general discussion prior to our formal submission due by the end of October. In the August edition of the Gatelodge (page 5) I encouraged members to meet and engage with Mr Knight and his team on their visits to establishments. Mr Knight has been impressed by the staff that he has met and their willingness to engage in the process. On behalf of the Executive thank you.

A pro-forma has been circulated to branches to assist in our final submission and subsequent oral evidence session. Please complete the pro-forma and return it to Cronin House. The POA must become an evidence based trade union. We must remember that the Pay Review Body will base its recommendations on evidence not hearsay.

On the topic of income, a recent report by Save the Children, “It shouldn’t happen here”, resulted in their first ever appeal on behalf of children in poverty in the UK. The report identifies that over half of the children in poverty in the UK have a parent in work. An income of 30k a year can put a strain on household finances in providing essentials such as food, heating and clothing.

The Government is committed to ending child poverty in the UK by 2020. The Government needs to recognise that there is a difference between competitive pay and low pay. Government has fallen into the trap of believing that the public sector can only be successful if they pay low wages. Hopefully the report will be a wake-up call to ministers and employers. The POA will provide them with a copy.

PRISON INSPECTORATE

Just when we thought we were making progress the Prison Inspector has published his views on the issues of remand prisoners and the abuse of prescription medicines. Remand and convicted prisoners are warehoused together due to chronic overcrowding in our prisons. A maximum of two staff have to manage upwards of one hundred prisoners on a unit. Observing the niceties of remand prisoner entitlements can be impossible if you are concentrating on protecting life and limb. Open your eyes Mr Hardwick and recognise the reality of our prisons.

The abuse of prescription medicines within prisons is not a new problem. To reduce or eradicate the problem needs suitable and sufficient staffing levels. The POA calls upon Mr Hardwick to fully engage with the justice unions. We can all identify problems; that is the easy part, but it appears that only the unions are prepared to point to the solutions.

CONCLUSION

As this article is being prepared for publication two police officers have been murdered in Manchester. There are no words that can adequately express our feelings at the murder of officers in the line of duty in protecting the public. As many of you will be aware, one of the officers is related to one of our colleagues. The POA will provide whatever assistance and support is necessary. I speak on behalf of the members and retired members of the POA in saying that we cannot possibly understand your grief but that the thoughts of all of us are with you.