National Chair

December 2013 | 18.12.2013

POA Members Continue to Deliver


Because of closures, privatisation and benchmarking, members' working conditions become seemingly more chaotic, but the National Chairman explains here how the POA is ramping up its support.

Women’s custodial estate review

This review has now been published; two prisons are to close as the women’s estate is reconfigured to hold prisoners closer to their homes in order to maintain family connections and to enhance prospects of rehabilitation.

POA members at HMP Askham Grange and HMP East Sutton Park will be supported through what promises to be an extended closure process.

HMP Askham Grange and HMP East Sutton Park have been acknowledged by the employer and politicians to be effective and successful prisons in the rehabilitation of offenders. With additional places to be provided at four public sector prisons and with NOMS not expecting the closures to take effect for up to 12 to 18 months this is a somewhat confusing message.

It may of course indicate that Ministers and NOMS have at long last listened to the POA and acknowledged that new accommodation needs to be operational before existing capacity is closed. It may too be an overdue recognition that predictions of the prison population are an inexact science. Again, in my experience, as we approach an election year politicians are reluctant to take measures that reduce the prison population.

Among a number of other announcements within the review there is an ambitious plan to place women suitable for open conditions in employment within the community to continue on their release. HMP Styal will be the pilot establishment for this initiative.


The POA has engaged Professor Gail Kinman and her team in the campaign that “68 IS TOO LATE”. Professor Kinman will aim to provide an online questionnaire with regard to stress levels with open-ended questions, interviews and a report of the findings. As this issue of Gatelodge is prepared for publication the details and draft questionnaires are being finalised. Please be prepared to contribute and play your part in the campaign to overturn this disgraceful and unworkable imposition. For the avoidance of doubt this will be a confidential survey of ALL POA members throughout the UK.

Continuing with the pension age debate, in Scotland the Justice Minister has written to the POA to reiterate their opposition to the Hutton Inquiry and the requirement for prison officers to work until the age of 68. In an extract from the letter Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill stated:

“I can assure you of a clear recognition that the current situation is unacceptable and would require to change.”

Following a yes vote in a referendum on independence, the Scottish Government will then instruct the employer to enter into discussions and negotiations on pension provision. As National Chairman I shall sidestep the question of an independent Scotland but embrace the sentiments of the Scottish Government. I am confident that Phil Fairlie and the SNC will be reminding Mr MacAskill of his ‘in principle’ commitment if the yes vote is achieved. I am also confident that our colleagues are aware that we too achieved a commitment to a retirement age of 60 which was rejected by the membership once the true cost of the added contributions became apparent.

You will recall that the increased contributions were to come in line with the police and the firefighters. Arguably of course, an increase in contributions in line with the police would lead to a discussion on rates of pay and the differential therein. Professor Kinman has also agreed to assist the POA to publicise the findings of the research.

Welsh prison

The POA accepted an invitation from NOMS to assist them in the bid to ensure that the new prison in Wrexham is operated by the public sector. I realise that some members are uncomfortable with such engagement but the on-going travails of the private sector make it imperative that the POA takes every opportunity to maintain a public sector prison service.

Private sector-run prisons

A number of private sector companies are being investigated following concerns with accounting procedures in the electronic tagging of prisoners. In addition, the private sector has seen a number of adverse media reports with regard to their overseas commercial interests.

In response; a number of high-profile directors have moved on from G4s and Serco. One of the directors leaving G4s is Richard Morris. Richard Morris was one of the G4s directors who met with Steve Gillan, Mark Freeman and I at a series of neverending meetings in the evening as the POA bid for the recognition rights for Oakwood Prison. To be fair to Richard Morris he was able to overcome his initial and perhaps understandable scepticism, to support our bid for recognition rights.

The POA has always been clear that the contracts given to the private companies to run prisons by successive governments were unachievable given the unit cost figure, of for example £13k per prisoner place, and that these contracts were then mismanaged in application.

The Private Sector is acquisitive and driven as much by the need for growth as for immediate profit. It cannot be in the public interest to concentrate on the value for- money argument and outsourcing at the lowest price with no thought to the quality of provision of services.

If you outsource or privatise and base the decision on cost without understanding the risks of the operational environment, then we will repeat the mistakes of the past. The POA will continue to impress upon politicians and NOMS that commissioning services at the lowest price inevitably results in reduced quality of services with inherent dangers to the health and safety of staff, prisoners and the public.

TUPE changes

The Government has completed its consultation on proposals to reduce the protections for workers following a transfer of business. Along with other trade unions and professional organisations, the POA is critical of many of the changes. Among the key changes the new employer will be able to alter terms and conditions after one year and unfair dismissal rights are further undermined. At a time when the outsourcing of the Probation Service is gathering pace it reinforces the need to prevent the privatisation of core custodial services.

At HMP Northumberland, negotiations using the current TUPE legislation with the new employer Sodexo are time-consuming and complex. I acknowledge the commitment on behalf of their membership of the branch who are being ably supported by area representative Terry Fullerton and the Union’s retained solicitors.


By the time this issue of Gatelodge is published, the prisons in Phase One will have commenced profiles based on New Ways of Working. As expected there are a number of issues arising that the dedicated NEC team is attempting to resolve with NOMS and the individual branch committees.

For example, the staffing on nights has been a contentious issue and we are working towards an increase in the night staffing level. As the Phase Two Benchmark reports are published it is essential that local committees challenge where necessary through the agreed processes. Again, please remember that your Governor has the MTT resource to backfill shortfalls in the profile. The profiles are based on ‘working prisons’ and that there should be a gradual movement to normal working or ‘steady state’. If no work is provided in the future then the profiles will need to be revisited.


In December the NEC will provide oral evidence to the Pay Review Body. The POA recognises that change is inevitable but has always insisted on ‘managed change’. In recent years the scale and pace of change has resulted in chaos in what needs to be an ordered and predictable working environment.

POA members are still to be convinced that a reduced workforce can remain a capable one within the operational environment in which they work. Despite the savage budget cuts alongside the increasing levels of violence, the institutionalised overcrowding, the expectation of prison closures and disruption to family life, POA members continue to deliver. My members do not deal from the bottom of the pack of cards, they deal from the top. What you see is what you get; professional men and women doing a difficult and at times impossible job with tact, diplomacy and skill.

Is it too much to expect that after years of pay restraint that a consolidated pay rise for everyone can be achieved?

PJ McParlin
National Chairman