Political Strategy up to the General Election 2015


RALLY AND LOBBY OF PARLIAMENT - 19TH MARCH 2014


Joe Simpson Assistant Secretary of the POA and Steve Lewis, POA Research Officer report on the lead up to and rally and lobby of Parliament on the 19th March 2014.

The General Secretary of the POA, Steve Gillan, set out his views and strategy to the POA’s National Executive Committee, a strategy that was supported and approved in late 2013. We asked Steve for his views on the purpose of the rally and lobby. The following are abstracts from Steve’s introduction to the Unions Briefing Paper for the event.

“The POA’s Political Campaign is intended to grow in momentum over the next year in the run up to the next General Election in May 2015. It is time that we make sure that the voice of POA members are heard by those Members of Parliament and the general public who use the ballot box to elect them.

“Her Majesty’s Prisons and our High Security Hospitals have been intrinsic parts of the Criminal Justice System in the United Kingdom since the 1800’s. Since that time they have changed and developed repeatedly, with the constant changes that the ever modernising culture and aspirations of society have deemed necessary.

“Recent years have seen dramatic increases in the size of the secure immigration facilities where POA members deal with large numbers of detainees who are awaiting removal from the UK.

“Our prisons, hospital and immigration detention centers and the manner in which they are operated and the care they provide those that are held within them are looked at by numerous other countries from around the world. They are considered by many both inside and those that looking in, as being beacons of good practice that many could and many more do admire and attempt to mirror.

“Unfortunately, the cuts and changes that are currently being forced on these Services have the potential to irrevocably damage their revered positions.

“Politicians from all Party’s must understand that if they wish to attract votes from POA members that they are going to have to make sure that clear and unambiguous commitments will have to be made within their Party Manifestoes.

The Event


Hundreds of members of the POA from across the United Kingdom attended the Rally and Lobby of Parliament. With the police closing Whitehall those POA members present proudly marched behind a piper past Downing Street and Parliament on or way to the rally at the Methodist Central Hall. Along the entire route the chants against the retirement age 68 were maintained, with NEC members using a megaphone to lead the way.

At the rally itself Peter McParlin National Chairman and Steve Gillan General Secretary addressed those in attendance along with Jenny Chapman MP – Shadow Prisons Minister, Ian Lavery MP, Elfyn LLwyd MP, John McDonnell MP, Kevin Maguire – Daily Mirror, Mat Wrack – FBU, Ian Lawrence – NAPO, Rob Williams – NSSN, John Clinton – Southern Ireland POA, Frances Crook – Howard League, Chris Baugh Assistant General Secretary of the PCS, Steven Cavalier – Thompsons and the final speaker of the day was Paul Nowak TUC Assistant General Secretary.

During his opening address the National Chairman led a minute applause in memory of Bob Crow and POA Honorary Life Member Tony Benn who both passed away in the week before the rally.

Peter emphasised “that public sector workers are not recognised for the work they do”.

“The Private sector may do many things well but not criminal justice”.

“Privatisation is no less expensive than public sector”.

“The POA has suffered a pay freeze for four years and in effect a pay cut, this is unacceptable”.

“The austerity agenda, workers are the heroes of the economic recovery”.

“68 is too late and we demand parity with the police and fire rescue service”.

“The POA has commissioned our own survey to provide evidence based information to support our campaign that 68 is too late”.

“The continued violence in our prisons and workplaces is simply unacceptable”.

He summed up his opening address saying “Enough is enough” it is for politicians to make commitments to ensure that they enable us to deliver a safe, decent and secure prison service.

Steve Gillan General Secretary addressed the delegation and set out some of the key issues that the union needs to engage in as the Union continues to campaign and press Government and MPs.

He set out the progress of the TUC motion seeking the practicalities of a General Strike and called for the date to be announced.

The four main topics for discussion were:-

  • 68 is too late Pension Campaign
  • Violence in the Workplace
  • Privatisation of public services and Prisons
  • Pay

The POA invited a number of MP’s to attend and partake in a Control and Restraint Training Session in 2011, unfortunately, for whatever reason the number of volunteers was below 5.
We must question why MP’s who make decisions on people futures do not have the courage of their convictions to at least have some understanding and experience of the work that they believe prison staff can undertake at the age of 65 and above.

Under Section 8 of the Prison Act 1952, Prison Officers while acting as such have all the powers, authority, protection and privileges of a constable. This means for example that Prison Officers can intervene in “999” situations in prisons as well as take proactive steps to prevent a crime, such as arresting members of the public who attempt to smuggle illicit items into prisons such as drugs. Police Officers under new pension arrangements will have the right to retire at 60 years of age.

If it is right for Police Officers to retire at the age of 60, then it is only right that the professional men and women who work at the frontline of the Prison Service are afforded the same right by the public and Government they protect.

We call on all POA members, their families and the public to support the POA and other public sector unions in their campaigns for a Fair, Just and Safe retirement age.

For many years now the POA and a number of leading Politicians have been highlighting the ever increasing levels of violence in our prisons. All sides of the House of Commons say that the prison population is becoming increasingly violent and more dangerous.

The Safer Custody figures published by the Ministry of Justice confirm that prison staff are working in conditions where the levels of violence is increasing year on year.

The data provided highlights that incidents of violence have increased from an average of 32 a day, to 42 a day in the last 10 years. Which other workplace of profession is experiencing such levels of violence?

Assaults on Staff

In addition to the general levels of violence between offenders, violence levelled against staff remains unacceptably high, with over 3,000 assaults on staff a year.

As of June 2013 over 300 Serious Assaults on Staff occurred according to NOMS data within a 12 month period.

The use of weapons during assaults is on the increase with almost 200 a year being reported.

Sexual Assaults in Prisons

The numbers of sexual assaults in our prisons remain an serious area of concern considering the environment that staff work in and prisoners live in.

The general public view Sex Offences amongst the most heinous crimes people commit. How many realise these offences are committed in prisons.

Self-Harm

The levels of violence and self-inflated injuries and deaths that prison staff face is a real concern but the actions of Government to date and NOMS has done little or anything to address this problem.

The Corston Report appears to have put in place systems which have reduced self-inflicted injuries with the Female estate but the rest of the prison population is being left extremely vulnerable.

Summary

The POA call on the Government, Ministry of Justice and National Offender Management Service to produce detailed evidence based reports to support their stance on reducing the levels of violence in prisons.

The year on year budget cuts imposed on the Prison Service has done nothing to address this problem but in the POA’s opinion they have contributed to the evidence that violence in the workplace is increasing.

In 1992 the first private prison HMP Wolds opened, this was returned to the public sector in 2013 under the competition process.

The POA have been opposed to the operation of prisons and secure institutions for the profit of the shareholders for many years and have campaigned against the opening of the Wolds in 1992.

Jack Straw whist in opposition and a member of the Labour leadership said that Privatisation of prison was “morally repugnant”. The POA has always agreed with this statement.

The concept of Privatisation of prisons was imported from the United States of America a system that is now starting to feel and experience the difficulties of allowing private profit to outweigh social duty.

Successive competition programmes has moved public sector prisons into private ownership and the majority of new prisons being outsourced to the private sector. What cost to the Tax Payer?

The latest Market Testing/Competition programme has been a complete debacle with hundreds of staff lives being disrupted, their future and their family’s future being left in limbo as the Government dealt with allegations of fraud, overcharging and the anger of the general public over the actions of private companies.

Public Concern

The image of the private sector in 2012 and 13 took a serious hit following the problems surrounding the Olympics and the Government decision to investigate the work and charging by some private sector companies.

Evidence of "inconsistent management" into Government Contracts outsources to the private sector, demonstrates the need for public ownership. Some of these areas include the Judiciary and Home Office but it has been well publicised that the privatisation of other public services contains considerable hidden cost to the tax payer.

Operational Failures

Within the Criminal Justice System departments serious concerns were raised following the annual assessment of prison performance of the two privately-operated prisons HMP Oakwood and Thameside. This followed the serious concerns by the Chief Inspector of Prisons in his first report following the opening of Thameside and the recent report on HMP Oakwood.

Summary

For many years there have been large volumes written about the virtues or otherwise of private sector companies being called upon by the British Government to operate our prisons for the profit of their shareholders. The POA have been consistent in our approach to this issue; the removal of a person’s liberty is a matter for the state; it is then the role of the state and not private enterprise to oversee that loss of liberty.

Whist the POA has many members working within privately operated prisons, we remain of the view that all prisons should be operated by the state to ensure that all prisons are Safe, Secure and Decent.

The POA have yet to see any real evidence that demonstrates that private is best.
In 2001 the pay and remuneration of POA members working in public sector prisons in England, Wales and Northern Ireland had their levels of pay considered by the Prison Service Pay Review Body. The PSPRB was set up under Section 128 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, as a compensatory mechanism for the removal of the Right to take industrial action under Section 127 of that Act. This process has continued on an annual basis despite the POA seeking legal redress, alternative methods and an application to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) because the process is neither fair nor just.

History

Sir Toby Freer was the first Chair of the Prison Service Pay Review Body (PSPRB) and as a result of the delay by Government of some 7 years to introduce a PSPRB he awarded a 6% annual pay awarded for all staff within the remit group. The Government in April of 2002 staged this award resulting in a 1.5% loss, the first indication of Government interference.

Successive Governments have issued remit letters and direction to the PSPRB resulting in NOMS/the Prison Service making Government recommendations based on Government directions. The PSPRB have continually sided with the employer and Government. As a result the annual pay of prison staff has declined year on year against the annual cost of living markers (RPI/CPI)

Fair and Sustainable

As part of a long term strategy NOMS initiated the introduction of Fair and Sustainable into the Service. This policy introduced and new pay model which reduced the pay of new prison officers and other operational grades significantly.

The test of the Pay and remuneration package has yet to be fully evaluated because of the Governments recruitment freeze and austerity measures following the Global recession.

Summary

It is difficult, if not impossible, to see how a process that sees Government dictate that over 75% of the PSPRB Remit group is to be excluded from any pay increase for over 5 years could possibly continue to hold the confidence of our members, NOMS staff.

The work of frontline operational staff in the Prison Service is more demanding than ever, the specialist skills and knowledge of the professional men and women of the Service needs to be recognised through pay. It is no longer acceptable for these staff to be treated as second class citizens.