National Chair

April 2014 | 15.04.2014

Political Strategy Rally, Westminster

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For far too long, prison staff have been the invisible public sector workers who protect the public on bank holidays, weekends and during the night.


Prison staff provide an essential and operational service in a dysfunctional and violent workplace and have to work with constant and unremitting change. With the reduction in budgets driven by the austerity agenda and with resources at a premium, the achievements of prison staff cannot continue to be underestimated and marginalised.

All too often, their achievements are unrecognised by politicians, in the media and by the public. Despite our contribution in the essential protection of the public, pay and pension provision has fallen to unacceptable levels.

Despite the contempt shown by successive governments the POA continues to engage with NOMS and with politicians, as you would expect from a professional and lay-led trade union. The political strategy rally that took place in Westminster on 19 March, 2014 again demonstrated our commitment to engagement. The role of the Criminal Justice System in the protection of the public is too important for the POA to adopt an approach other than engagement.

The POA, as determined by Annual Conference, remains unaffiliated to any political party. This NEC aims to build a working relationship and gain recognition for the work of our members from across the political divide. To that end, all of the main political parties were invited to attend our rally. We are disappointed then that the Coalition Government made no attempt to attend the rally. There are Conservative and Liberal constituent MPs who support prison staff and we recognise their contribution. Unfortunately, their work on behalf of their constituents is undermined by the antitrade union bias that pervades this Coalition Government at cabinet level.

Member support

Despite that bias, our Political Strategy Rally was attended by MPs, other trade union leaders, academics and representatives from across the Criminal Justice System. The most important people in attendance were of course, you, the membership of the POA. Thank you on behalf of the NEC for attending

in your own time to support the strategy developed by this NEC to ensure that the interests of POA members are recognised by politicians. The strategy going forward from 19 March is to reinforce the effects of pay, pensions, violence, and the privatisation agenda on prison staff. Alongside these central themes the strategy will promote the role of prison staff and their essential role within the Criminal Justice System. If you were unable to attend I urge you to read our briefing papers prepared for the rally and become actively engaged up to and beyond the General Election in May 2015. You have an essential role to play in supporting our campaigns to achieve equality, justice and fairness for prison staff. Yes we have no veto on change but please help us to place the POA at the centre of debate on reform within the Criminal Justice System. If not us – who? If not now – when?


Recognition of the risk


The POA notes with interest the contents of the recent communication between the chief executive office of NOMs, Michael Spurr, and public sector prison staff.

According to Mr Spurr: “We do not have the capacity to take on further change at this time. Our ministers accept this and therefore an objective over the next eighteen months is to deliver what we have promised. Budgets will not be further reduced and we will not be asked to do more.”

This announcement is welcome and long overdue. The public accounts committee has praised NOMS for cutting £230million from its spending in 2011 – 12. However, the MPs were sceptical that a further £650million could be cut from its £3.4billion budget by 2015. The chair of the committee said the cuts depended on redundancies and this would undermine the rehabilitation agenda of the Government.

There is no doubt that in the run up to the election, Ministers are concerned at the level of risk within our prisons. Deaths in custody, serious assaults, and the deployment of the NTRG to incidents of concerted indiscipline have all risen in recent months. There can be no doubt that prison staff are having to work with a more challenging population than ever before given the reduction in staffing.

In January 2014, the Shadow Justice Secretary, Sadiq Khan, referred to the rise in the number of incidents in prisons as “a tragedy waiting to happen”. NTRG staff attended 113 incidents in the first six months of 2013-14 compared to 137 in 2012-13 and 130 in 2011-12. Jeremy Wright, the Prison Minister, clearly in denial or misinformed, has maintained that the rise in incidents attended by the NTRG was mainly due to the increase in incidents at height. At the end of November Mr Wright had confirmed that the NTRG had attended incidents at 45 percent of the prisons in England and Wales in the previous twelve months.

Add into this, the reduction in operational capacity and the increase in the prison population and the margins for error in an operational environment point to heightened risk. I would remind you of the prison capacity announcement in January 2013:

‘We will remove 2,788 places through the closure of six prisons and the closure of accommodation in three other sites. This includes the decommissioning of 200 contractually crowded places at private prisons which are no longer needed.”

The strategy has failed and the private sector crowded places are once again needed at significant cost to the tax payer.


Pay


The recommendations of the pay review body have been accepted by the coalition government.

The POA’s written and oral evidence in respect of the need for a consolidated pay award has been accepted. The full report is widely available and can be accessed on the POA website.

You will be aware that the Coalition Government imposed a two year pay freeze on public sector workers from 2011. Following the pay freeze, the Coalition Government then arbitrarily capped pay at one percent to 2016. This despite the Coalition Government claiming that the recession is effectively over and that the economy is improving. All this is of course a pay cut when you factor in inflation and the rise in the cost of living.

At the 2014 Annual Conference, a motion proposed by the NEC called for the POA to cease providing evidence to the Pay Review Body. The reasoning of the NEC in proposing this motion was the continued and callous disregard for the evidence provided by the POA in support of improved pay and allowances. The Executive fully understood and accepted the reasons for the rejection of the motion by the delegates at Annual Conference. Understandably, the membership wanted their union to retain its voice in an imposed process supposedly provided for the POA as a compensatory measure for the removal of our trade union rights. The POA no longer has the right to engage in collective bargaining on pay or take any form of industrial action as a result of the restrictions placed upon us in recognition of our role as an essential service within Criminal Justice.

Fair and Sustainable document is not a mark time agreement

That professional approach from the membership, and the evidence within our submission, has resulted in a one percent consolidated pay rise from April 2014. Following our submission in 2012, the Pay Review Body had the temerity to suggest that their recommendations had been based in part on the assumption that the POA would want to encourage its members to sign into the Fair and Sustainable terms and conditions. As you would expect, we informed Mr Knight that Fair and Sustainable was endorsed in order to protect existing pay and reward in the midst of the recession. You will recall that the Fair and Sustainable document is not a mark time agreement and that annual POA pay submissions would be considered on their merits.

Given that Mr Knight has been a well-respected chair of pay review bodies his comments indicate that he was either not in command of his brief or in thrall to his pay masters. The Executive does not believe that the one percent imposed by the Coalition Government is sufficient reward for prison staff. Nevertheless, the Executive had maintained from the beginning that the Fair and Sustainable Document did not constitute a mark time agreement. A consolidated pay award justifies that confidence.

In my recent articles in Gatelodge magazine, I have pointed to the consequences of another non-consolidated pay awards for 80 percent of the remit group. In addition to the continued impact of the rise in the cost of living, the pension benefit for prison staff had been frozen at 2011 levels. We must also remember that for many years, the employer insisted that our pensions constituted deferred pay and that was the justification for below average pay awards.

In May 2010 there were 34,280 operational staff. In May 2013 there were 29,530. The prison population is at an all-time high. With increasing staff/ prisoner ratios, with the constant stress of the work place and in the midst of continuous and unremitting change prison staff must be paid appropriately.

In December, the Chief Constable of Lancashire maintained that his police officers spend one day a week fighting crime due to the restrictions placed upon them of completing paperwork. Such pronouncements must always be treated with caution, but if true then, with the exception of the military, prison staff are the only operational service that have face to face contact with dangerous people 24/7. Prison officers may not be as publically visible as other operational workers but we are as important as the others. Prison officers and related grades deserve respect and equal treatment. We cannot and will not continue to be unrecognised for the work we do. A one percent consolidated pay award for the remit group should have been the minimum award last year and again this year. Together with the General Secretary, I have left NOMS and Ministers in no doubt that a nonconsolidated pay award would have resulted in action by the membership.
 


PJ McParlin
National Chairman