National Chair

April 2013 | 07.04.2013

One size does not fit all

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The Special Delegates Conference held on 28 February at Newbold Revel was called by the executive to determine whether the POA would continue to be involved in competition benchmarking.

On behalf of the membership, the delegates supported Motion 2, that reinforced the collective view of the executive that the POA has to be involved in competition benchmarking in order to achieve the best deal for the membership. That involvement has to be constructive, transparent and sustainable if competition benchmarking is to be a viable alternative to wholesale privatisation of the public sector prison estate.

The POA will now continue to evaluate the benchmark reports at local and national level from prison establishments. These reports will need to be evaluated and accepted, or rejected, based on evidence and reasoned argument. The reports must take into account the most recent but also the historical levels of violence within establishments, acts of concerted indiscipline, self-harm, the building type and so on. Our prisons are diverse and there will be a need to emphasise to politicians and the employer that one size does not fit all. Security has to be proportionate to the function and inherent risks of the individual establishment. In addition, reports by the Prison Inspectorate, the Prison Ombudsman, Independent Monitoring Boards and others can be of practical use in informing the need for safe, secure and decent prisons within competition benchmarking. The decisions reached by the delegates, on behalf of the membership, will of course be unpopular with some but, in my opinion, we now have a pragmatic and necessary response to the challenges we face.

I again remind the membership that the rules of commercial in confidence are no longer applicable and that transparent disclosure will be necessary to enable the POA to challenge and shape the competition benchmark reports. It will be necessary to point to omissions within reports, to put forward improvements, and yes - as stated, to reject reports. Those of you who recall the days of the MCS visits to establishments will recall that POA branches, with NEC input, were able to challenge and influence the agenda at that time.

Notwithstanding the above, competition benchmarking will be an unrelenting and unforgiving process. The POA membership will have to be convinced that a competition benchmark that introduces new staff profi les, alongside a revised core–day and a regime refresh but then seeks widespread voluntary redundancies across a volatile and often violent prison estate is safe, secure and decent. In simple terms we must be convinced that it can work within an operational environment.

“A simplistic analysis”

These were the words of Jeremy Wright, the Prisons Minister, in response to the claim by Reform that the private sector is better at running prisons than the public sector. Reform has been described as a ‘right leaning think–tank’ and insists within the report that private prisons cut costs and reduce reoffending. It came as no surprise that the CBI supported the report.

The POA and other interest groups responded to the report pointing to the mistakes made within their analysis. There was significant media coverage of the report and our response to it. While it is encouraging that the Prison Minister disagreed with many of the claims - it reinforces the fact that the POA cannot afford to be complacent. The decisions made at the Special Delegates Conference indicate to me that the membership is not complacent, but realistic and pragmatic.

The report also called for an end to national pay bargaining for prison officers with pay and conditions to be set locally by Governors. Our submission to the Pay Review Body, alongside the POA endorsement of the collective agreement; Fair and Sustainable, removed the real and immediate threat of regional pay. It is clear to me that vested interests seeking to undermine public sector services do not like the certainty and protection that we have been able to achieve. Again we cannot afford to be complacent on the issue of regional pay.

Prison closures and part closures

The Special Delegates Conference also covered a debate on prison closures and part closures and a further motion in respect of the Fair and Sustainable document. Please read the verbatim report of the Special Delegates Conference, alongside POA circulars and the Gatelodge Extra published in February, for an update and overview on these issues.

In regard to prison closures and part closures you will be aware that the POA organised a protest opposite the House of Commons on 13 February 2013. On behalf of the executive I’d like to thank those who attended and provided visible support on the day. On the day we were joined by (among others) Ian Lawrence, Acting General Secretary of NAPO, representatives of the PCS, the National Shop Stewards Network and the Socialist Party. In addition, the protest was attended by a number of MPs including John McDonnell, Dennis Skinner, Dave Anderson and Ian Lavery MP.

Immediately prior to this protest meeting a number of branches were invited to attend a drop-in session within Parliament on prison closures that had been organised by the POA and the Justice Union Parliamentary Group. This is a tried and tested opportunity for members to meet with MPs to raise their concerns and issues on aspects of Government policy. We can of course never guarantee the attendance of MPs at these sessions but once again I believe it proved to be a useful exercise in explaining the POA opposition to the policy of prison closures. Again thank you to those of you who took the time to engage in a constructive and professional manner with the MPs who did attend.

Ian Lavery MP

Ian Lavery, the Wansbeck MP, attended the drop–in session and the protest meeting. You will recall that Ian resigned as Harriet Harman’s Parliamentary private secretary. Harriet Harman is the Deputy Leader of the Labour party. Ian had refused to withdraw his amendment to the Pension Legislation Bill in which he called for an exemption for prison and psychiatric staff from the imposed increase in the pensionable age. Ian pointed to comparisons with other emergency service workers and previous studies that pointed to death rates of staff following retirement.

For ease of reference I have produced Ian’s statement following his resignation:

‘Political life is about being prepared to make your own political choices but I also understand the need for discipline within the Labour party. I tabled a series of amendments to the Public Sector Services Pensions Bill, which I was asked to withdraw because they were not in line with the front bench position. I was not prepared to withdraw them and I stand by that. I have therefore decided to resign my position as PPS to Harriet Harman. I’ve done this reluctantly and with great regret.’

Ian has accepted my invitation to attend and address Annual Conference. I would hope that Conference will acknowledge that there are politicians who do recognise and support the work of prison and psychiatric staff . The POA will be seeking an explanation from the Labour Party.

An essential emergency service?

The Weekly Operations Report is produced by the National Operations Unit which coordinates the national response to prison incidents. In effect it summarises all of the incidents reported to it from the incident line within the previous seven days.

In reading the Weekly Operations Report for the week ending 17 February 2013 my attention was drawn to item 4 [Assaults]. An incident had been
logged and reported that two officers had been assaulted by a prisoner during an escort from HMP Blundeston. The escort had been diverted during the incident to a police station and in order to remove the prisoner from the taxi an ‘incapacitant spray’ had been used by the police.

The essential work that prison, police and psychiatric staff do on behalf of society by definition necessitates contact with some difficult and dangerous individuals. As Ian Lavery has recognised, whether it be prison, police or secure psychiatric staff we protect the public. We must be provided with recognition, but also the necessary protective equipment to fulfil our role as an essential service.

Protection of Workers Bill

Graeme Morrice, MP for the Livingston constituency, also attended our drop–in session in Parliament. The POA General Secretary and I met with Graeme Morrice in February, ahead of the second reading debate of his Protection of Workers Bill. This Bill seeks to ensure that anyone who assaults or abuses public-facing workers will face the full legal consequences of their actions. Graeme Morrice has made reference to prison staff within his submission to Parliament. POA Circular 2/2013 requested all POA members to write to their MPs asking them to support the bill.

Broadmoor

In February, Steve Bostock, Brian Traynor and I visited Broadmoor Hospital. Although referrals to Broadmoor are from within the Criminal Justice System, POA members and staff were keen to point out that this is a secure hospital and not a prison. Although the common denominator is the high degree of risk, Broadmoor Hospital provides a specialist service for those with a mental illness and personality disorders. Often seen as providing a treatment option of the last resort, and at times subject to unwanted press intrusion, there is no doubt that POA members at Broadmoor look after their patients with care and compassion. Following an extended tour of the hospital I was pleased to present a number of long-service awards to staff . As the first National Chairman to visit Broadmoor in living memory (according to the branch committee) I am determined to reinforce our support for our members within the secure hospitals sector.

Paul McKeever

Finally, on Saturday 9 February 2013, I represented the POA at the memorial service for Paul McKeever at Southwark Cathedral. Paul, the National Chairman of the Police Federation, died suddenly in January just days before he was due to retire. Paul engaged with the POA at every opportunity at our fringe meetings and in Parliament and I will miss our interaction. The POA have not had a better friend and supporter

I look forward to Annual Conference.
 

P.J McParlin
National Chairman