National Chair

December 2015 | 11.12.2015




As I prepare this article, the Ministry of Justice has published the statistics on deaths in custody to September 2015, and assaults and self-harm incidents to June 2015. The statistics are unacceptable. Despite the efforts of a dedicated and well-meaning team within NOMS working to address violence in prisons, there has been no improvement in safety in custody in England and Wales. I would urge members to access the report and consider the key findings.

There were 4,156 assaults on staff in the twelve months to June 2015 at a rate of 49 assaults per 1,000 prisoners. This is an increase of 20 percent in the past 12 months to June. Serious assaults increased by 42 percent on the previous year.

This official report does not suggest causes or provide solutions as to the reasons for these truly appalling statistics. The POA has consistently pointed to budget cuts and the intrinsically linked staff shortages as reasons for the increase in prison violence, deaths and suicides. In our press release in response to these statistics, the POA called upon the Justice Secretary to stop, listen and learn from those who work within the criminal justice system day in day out. If NOMS and politicians will not protect prison staff and the prisoners in our care then the POA will have to.



It would appear that this Government has ambitious plans to reform the Criminal Justice System. The Prime Minister referenced the need for reform in his address to the Conservative Party conference in October. For the Prime Minister to refer to prisons at any time is significant and indicative of his relationship with the Justice Secretary. The Prime Minister talked about the need for serious reform in our prisons, pointing to re-offending rates and the cost of imprisonment. He went on to emphasise the need to devolve power and control to prison governors and that the Conservatives wanted to sell inner city prisons.

Perhaps the Prime Minister should recognise the parallels between selling off inner city prisons and the likely cost of renovating the Palace of Westminster? I accept that the latter is an iconic building of historical significance but insisting that the public sector sells off prisons and other assets to reduce costs while spending billions of pounds on refurbishment of a building for our elected representatives is nonsense. When the Chancellor has the temerity to email all public sector workers asking them to suggest ways of doing more with less, then perhaps revisiting the obscene expenditure planned on the refurbishment of Westminster, alongside the 10 percent pay award for MPs, might be a start.



The POA had hoped to be in a position to work alongside Ministers and NOMS, if the reform programme had been acceptable to the membership. The decision by politicians to interfere in collective bargaining arrangements, to deny 80 percent of operational grades a consolidated award, will make this impossible. This interference has effectively ended our expectation that the 2015 POA/ NOMS Agreement signalled a new and constructive period in industrial relations.

There can be no doubt that this Government will attempt to implement its plans for reform in criminal justice without the co-operation of the POA. The Justice Secretary and Prison Minister have been left in no doubt that this approach is fl awed and dangerous. POA members are demoralised and at times overwhelmed by the reality of their working environment, notwithstanding their pitiful and unacceptable reward and remuneration package. The POA says to politicians and to the public that we are incensed and yes, disgusted by the treatment of loyal and committed public sector workers. Given the number of assaults and the number of serious assaults on prison staff, in the essential protection of the public, this is an abrogation of responsibility by politicians, which the POA cannot allow to continue.

NOMS has recently published a recruitment booklet, ‘Is it in you to be a prison officer?’ NOMS states that ‘you can expect all the usual benefits you’d expect from a public sector role: a civil service pension, 25 days annual leave, childcare vouchers, and much more.’ All well and good but when you are faced with high rents, unaffordable house prices and better pay elsewhere, and given the level of violence in the workplace, NOMS will need to do better than this smokescreen of a booklet to recruit, motivate and retain staff.

The POA has an absolute right, born from the struggle of generations of trade unionists, to challenge unjust pay settlements.



In this article, it will not be necessary for me to revisit the reasons why the POA decided not to submit evidence to the Pay Review Body this year. It is, however, now necessary for me to update the membership on recent developments and the impact of these developments on the 2015 POA/ NOMS Agreement and industrial relations.

Once the 2015 POA/NOMS Agreement had been signed, members of the executive met with NOMS to negotiate on pay. An agreement was reached with NOMS in that their submission to the Pay Review Body would recommend a one percent consolidated pay award for operational staff. The executive accepts that a one percent consolidated pay award is woefully inadequate but do recognise that it is in line with the restrictions imposed by the Treasury. The POA has made it clear at conferences and in the media that we would support the ongoing campaign by the TUC and others to overturn the restrictions on public sector pay awards. Please take the time to read the POA motion and the verbatim report from the TUC 2015 on the public sector pay cap.

A continuous pay freeze is in effect a pay cut. The loss in real income of the policy of pay restraint and pension provision since 2010 is not an exact science but a reduction of somewhere between 15 and 18 percent in real income would be a reasonable estimate. Again, I do not need to remind the membership that a one percent consolidated pay award for 2016/2017 would amount to two percent in total over seven years. NOMS were clear, at the conclusion of the negotiations, that their recommendation of a consolidated pay award for all operational grades would be dependent on approval by the Justice Secretary and the Treasury.

The POA had made it clear in collective bargaining negotiations with NOMS that a consolidated pay award for closed grades would be the absolute minimum requirement in order to maintain confidence in the 2015 Agreement. Again, a consolidated pay award would be the absolute minimum to ensure that the POA remains engaged in negotiations on any future prison reform.

On 20 October 2015, I wrote to the Prison Minister in response to his letter which had announced the formal activation of the pay round mechanism. Within this letter, the Prison Minister stated that in accordance with the commitment made by previous governments, it was not necessary to issue a formal remit letter to the Pay Review Body this year. However, he had drawn the attention of the Pay Review Body to the continued need for pay restraint. Furthermore, the Minister had copied me into a letter that he had sent to the Chairman of the Pay Review Body, as a part of the formal mechanisms to activate the pay round. In this letter the Minister had raised the contents of a further letter from the Chief Secretary of the Treasury to the Chairman of the Pay Review Body and yet again, the need for continued pay restraint is emphasised. The Minister went onto to say that the Government “expects pay awards to be applied in a targeted manner to support the delivery of public services, and to address recruitment and retention pressures”.

The letter to Mr Knight cannot be seen as anything other than a formal remit letter setting out as it does instructions to be followed by the Pay Review Body. There can be no doubt as to the meaning of the instructions within the letter from the Chief Secretary of the Treasury. These letters are clear and unambiguous examples of interference in the process and confirm that the decision taken by POA Annual Conference in 2015 not to submit evidence was correct.

On 13 October 2015 the POA was informed that the Justice Secretary and the Treasury had rejected NOMS’ submission of a one percent consolidated award for closed grades in the Prison Service. NOMS was informed by the Justice Secretary that any investment into pay should support only those within the Fair and Sustainable grades. As a result, NOMS had to submit alternative evidence to the Pay Review Body in keeping with the instructions from the Justice Secretary and the Treasury.


PJ McParlin
National Chairman