National Chair

June 2013 | 18.06.2013

Annual Conference and Special Delegates Conference

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At the conclusion of Annual Conference a Special Delegates’ Conference took place to determine ten Conference Papers alongside Motions designed to restructure the POA.

The adoption of Motion 61 at Annual Conference in 2011 directed the Executive to review the structures and organisation of the POA in England and Wales to ensure that the representation of the membership would continue to be appropriate and viable. In my opinion, this review had been long overdue.

Across the public sector the Coalition Government has reduced the ¬ financial support for trade unions in the workplace. I am not an apologist for the employer but we have to be realistic and recognise that NOMS will implement directives from Government. Following on from this directive from the Coalition Government, the POA had to be realistic and accept that a reduction in the employer contribution of upwards of three to four million pounds per year had to be addressed.

Branch level

At branch level, trained representatives are effectively a part of the management process with the contributions that they make in areas such as pro¬ ling and health and safety. Branch representatives from the POA add tangible benefits to every workplace. They give a huge amount of their own time to supporting members in individual and collective casework. However, whether it is in prisons or in secure psychiatric hospitals, it is not the immediate employer that needs to be convinced. The TUC and the public sector trade unions have been unable to convince politicians of the benefits that unionised workplaces provide for workers and employers. Furthermore, Francis Maud, the Cabinet Secretary, has given a clear and unambiguous steer to public sector employers that there will be no full–time facility time for trade union officials except in exceptional circumstances. Any exceptions will need to be time bounded, reviewable and subject to a rigorous business case.

POA restructuring

The focus of every trade union must be on its structure and organisation. We all want to increase the size of the membership but there is no point in expanding if we cannot protect and represent the existing membership. It should have been obvious to all that the POA had to be structured to compensate for reductions in facility time at local and national level.

With the adoption of the ten Conference Papers on restructuring the POA has taken a significant step towards where we need to be as a viable and progressive trade union. We can anticipate further reductions in central funding and the POA may need to consider further restructuring in the future. Please take the time to look at the Conference Papers which are now policy and affect public and private workplaces.

Conduct committee

On the ¬ first day of Annual Conference the decision of the panel of the Conduct Committee to ban seven Executive members from national and local office was rati¬fied by the delegates. It was a difficult day but nonetheless a necessary part of the democratic process.

The Rules and the Constitution pertaining to the POA do not belong to the National Chairman or to the Executive. The Rules and the Constitution of the POA belong to the membership. The Conduct Committee sits within the Rules and the Constitution of the POA and provides the essential checks and balances that every trade union must have to ensure transparency and fairness. The Conduct Committee is chosen from retired Honorary Life Members and Cronin Clasp Holders, they are the recipients of the highest awards that you, the membership, can give. These men and women have a difficult, time-consuming and more often than not, thankless task when called upon to consider whether a breach of the rules has taken place. They have agreed to be members of the Conduct Committee in order to give something back to their trade union when in reality they owe us nothing. I would ask the membership to acknowledge that the men and women of the Conduct Committee, in giving their time and energy to the POA, do so with your support.

Prison Minister

Jeremy Wright, the Prison Minister, addressed Annual Conference, and answered a number of questions from delegates. The POA welcomes the attendance of politicians at Conference and the opportunity it provides for delegates to hear from the decision makers.

Lord Hutton’s report on public sector pensions recommended that a pension age of 60 might be more appropriate for employees in uniformed services to recognise the unique nature of their job. In April, I gave evidence in Parliament to the Justice Select Committee on older prisoners. The Select Committee was considering whether the appropriate age for an aged prisoner should be set at 50, 60 or 65 years of age. There then followed much discussion with regard to the requirement for prison staff to provide the necessary social care for aged prisoners.

With the pensionable age of prison staff now at 68 years of age; the carers will be older than those to be cared for. The message from Annual Conference to the Minister was clear and unequivocal that this is nonsense, unsustainable and morally wrong. The POA wants to work with politicians but expects fairness in return.

National Arboretum

In April, I was delighted to represent the POA at a dedication service at the National Arboretum in Staff¬ordshire designed as a lasting memorial to prison staff¬ who have died in service. Staff¬ in uniform attended alongside retired members and their family and friends. A tree and the accompanying plaque will provide a lasting focal point to remember our colleagues. Thank you to Victoria Mullis of HMP Foston Hall who worked tirelessly to ensure that the day was such a resounding success.

Bradford Memorial football tournament

Over the Easter weekend I attended the annual football tournament that had been set up by the POA in the aftermath of the re which claimed so many lives at the Bradford stadium in 1985. My role was the simple one of giving a speech and then presenting trophies and awards to the teams and officials that took part in the three day tournament. Without the input and enthusiasm of the staff¬ from Bradford Council, Bradford City FC and the numerous volunteers who give up their time over the holiday period there would be no tournament. I would encourage you to follow the example of the Lincoln POA who, apart from supplying a trophy, took part to great effect in the veterans’ competition. A special mention here for John Paddington, the former National Chairman and long standing member of the NEC, who has overseen this event on behalf of the POA for 28 years. It is due in no small measure to John that the name of the POA in Bradford is known and respected. (See the full report on page 16 of this issue of Gatelodge.)

Southern Ireland POA and PCS [NOMS] conferences

In May, I accepted invitations on your behalf to offer fraternal greetings and address the executives and delegates at these conferences. The POA must continue to exchange ideas and shared experiences with friends and colleagues across the criminal justice system in the UK and beyond.


Conclusion

As we go forward there are no easy solutions and we must be prepared to take difficult decisions. Whether the challenge is Fair and Sustainable, benchmarking, prison closures or pay; the POA must be organised to protect hard-won terms and conditions. The trade unions that are able to maintain and sustain effective representation and structures will be the ones that succeed.

Finally

As we go to press the hostage incident at HMP Full Sutton is being reported in the media. As ever, a number of newspapers have misreported the dreadful events at Full Sutton. What is known is that a prison officer was taken hostage by three prisoners and sustained a broken cheekbone and further wounds to his face and neck. A second officer, in an attempt to assist her colleague, received cuts to her arm.

The POA is unable to comment on the motives of the prisoners involved until an investigation has been completed. We are aware that the North East Counter Terrorism Unit is investigating this incident which, following the murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich, would call for appropriate staffing levels, increased security awareness and revisited risk assessment within our prisons.

That this serious incident was resolved owes much to the professionalism of the prison service intervention team. Thank you on behalf of the POA.

When the facts have been established the POA will be in a position to raise its concerns with politicians, the employer and the media. In the meantime the Executive is working with the local branch to provide all necessary support to the victims and their colleagues.

I will remind you of the logo of Annual Conference: “Safe, Secure and Decent is Non-Negotiable.”