National Chair: When will they learn?


The collapse of Carillion should come as a timely reminder that public sector work belongs with public sector workers and the scourge and obsession with outsourcing must cease with immediate effect.

How many more disasters must the public sector endure? We not only have unfit-for purpose contractors attempting to maintain our prisons, schools, hospitals and government buildings, but we also have unfit-for-purpose contracts that allow these cowboy firms to not only exploit their employees, but to fleece the taxpayer of millions of pounds due to work being ‘out of scope.’

How many times have Prison Officers been on the receiving end of abuse, threats and assault because the now defunct Carillion or the increasingly failing, Amey, have stated, “Can’t do it, out of scope that job?”

We had a perfectly adequate system in place prior to these services being privatised in 2015. In fact, it was the POA that warned Government that nobody could be more cost-effective or efficient than our own works departments. But on the promise of saving the taxpayer in excess of £115 million we gave this work away to profiteers who cared not one jot about the scale of the work involved, or the amount of tradespeople they would need. Redundancies and cost-cutting followed and thousands of simple, everyday repairs stacked up.

The MOJ recently published a report admitting that the savings they promised would not materialise. Have heads rolled in the MOJ for this diabolical decision or have they done their usual trick and moved someone sideways − or give them a promotion?

Never has there been a better example of failure than the recent bad publicity levelled at HMP Liverpool, which is a prime example of a failed outsourcing project. In fact, this Amey contract has just been ‘reset’, which means they are now going to get bucket loads of taxpayers’ cash to clear the back log. Funny how they have recently doubled their staffing compliment at Liverpool in order to catch up. If they had adequate staff in the first place, adequate systems in place to repair cells and a contract that didn’t cause both staff and prisoners so much frustration, the estate would not be in such a mess.


Meeting the Secretary of State

My first meeting with the new Secretary of State, David Gauke, was positive. If he listens to what was said; he has a chance of improving things rapidly, but if he chooses, as predecessors have, to listen to HMPPS Directors or non-operational ‘experts’ who have never opened a door to a violent prisoner, we will continue on a downward spiral.

Our new Minister needs to reinstate our retirement age of 60 to encourage not only recruitment but retention of valued, experienced staff. He needs to expand the PAVA rollout as soon as possible to the most violent prisons, to enable our members to protect both themselves and prisoners, and, he needs to ensure that we have a pay structure that is fit-for-purpose and recognises all grades for the valuable and dangerous work they do.

Violence against staff continues to be concerning and unacceptable. Only adequate staffing on landings and safe regimes, coupled with the resources at hand to quell violence, will start to make a difference. I’m fed up with listening to so called experts, who have never walked a landing, telling us what is best. Well, they can keep their social experiments and their theory to themselves.

My members and I want safe prisons that are controlled and well ordered. Once we get that then maybe then we can consider ‘hugging the hoodies.’

New prisons

We continue to wait for the Government announcement about the six new-build prisons. The sites include Wellingborough, Glen Parva, Port Talbot, Full Sutton, Rochester and Hindley. At least two of these sites will be built and up and running by the end of this parliament. Interestingly, HMPPS are formulating a group of senior managers to decide if the public sector will bid for these new builds! I was rightly outraged when I discovered this and stated that this should not be an option − we should be bidding for all new-builds if a bidding process is going to take place. Does this mean that the public sector will not be allowed to bid? We await the answer.

One thing is for sure. We have private prisons, it looks like they are here to stay, and despite our wishes not to have them and return private to public, whilst they are here and whilst we have POA members in those sites, we must support them and fight for improved working conditions and safety. So often, regimes continue despite the risks for fear of fines. That just is not right and we must ensure it stops. Shareholders’ dividends must never be at the expense of staff safety and profiteering from a human’s incarceration is an abhorrent concept.

NEC elections

As you read this edition of Gatelodge, we find ourselves in the midst of NEC elections. There are many positions on offer including Vice Chair, Deputy General Secretary and four NEC. There are some excellent candidates and I wish them all the very best of luck as they nervously await the results.


We may also know by then if we have been awarded a consolidated pay rise. The POA has been heavily involved in the TUC campaign, along with other public sector unions to ‘scrap the cap.’ In our employer’s eyes this means giving slightly above a one percent increase, but let’s be honest, anything lower than the rate of inflation is yet another pay cut. I would like our Government to replicate the Italian Government’s recent decision on pay. After more than eight years without pay increase 3.4 million public sector workers will each get on average a 3.9 percent pay increase. That would be a start! I will not hope for an inflation-busting offer as I do not wish to be disappointed.


As conference season approaches I look forward to the debate in Southport and would encourage members to come along to observe proceedings if they possibly can. If you have never attended conference before, it’s certainly an experience and an education. I welcome the delegates’ opinions and hopefully, I can say hello to all those who attend.


The pensions challenge continues to progress and has been helped by the recent Employment Tribunal Appeal ruling that supports the firefighters’ pension claim. This now means that the POA, who have a similar claim to the FBU, have lodged our claim and have sourced test cases for each category. This will obviously be a lengthy process but it’s one we must take forward. Of course, it would make a lot more sense for the Government to give permission to the employer to sit down with this Union to negotiate a reduced retirement age for Prison Officers; we keep asking them to do so and keep awaiting a decision.


As the PAVA pilot continues, the initial results have been positive and after the recent shocking events at HMP Bedford that could have been fatal for one of our members, we are now demanding that PAVA is rolled out immediately without delay. It is clear from the Bedford incident, that using PAVA would have prevented this cowardly attack on a brave member of staff who was trying to intervene and keep prisoners safe. I can no longer accept excuses, we need to ensure the safety of staff and if the employer refuses to do so then the POA will act. Your safety is non-negotiable.

By now, rigid cuffs should be in stock and available to order. The sooner staff get the tools to protect themselves the better. We will, of course, be pressing the employer to issue utility vests so equipment is easily accessible and staff don’t get weighed down by their utility belts.

As I continue to visit branches I continue to be impressed by the professionalism and will to succeed of the staff I meet. Despite very dangerous working conditions staff continue to shine. Keep the invites coming to

Finally, to all staff who are recovering from assaults or illness, I wish you all the best and to everybody else, I say keep safe, stick together and keep supporting each other.

All the best

Mark Fairhurst
National Chair

Representing over 30,000 Prison, Correctional and Secure Psychiatric Workers, the POA is the largest UK Union in this sector, able to trace its roots back more than 100 years.