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Scottish Annual Conference of POA (Scotland) 2019 was held on 30th/31st October and hosted for the first time in Peebles Hydro Hotel. The conference saw delegates from the branches of the POA across Scotland taking part in debating motions on behalf of their branch membership and developing POA(S) policy going forward.
The Scottish National Chairman, on opening the conference, took the opportunity to welcome the delegates and invited guests and informed conference that due to the scheduling of the Cabinet Secretary who was attending the highly anticipated panel debate, there was a requirement to move the debate forward and go straight to that business following his opening remarks. Formal movement of standing orders to take place later in the day.
The Chair noted and welcomed the attendance of the Cuffe Committee who were engaged to explore the existing structure of the POA in Scotland and consider what, if any, recommendations for change may be required. The Chair further expressed his desire to see a more positive conference than that which existed last year reflecting that the negative mood surrounding the POPP exercise over spilled into last year’s conference giving a false impression of the generally sound relationships that exists. Given the extent of the pay progress made this year, a significantly more constructive environment would be expected and hopefully the committee will be left with a more realistic and positive view of how Scotland and its branches conduct its business.
This year’s Scottish Conference was delighted to host a panel debate amongst the key individuals operating across the Scottish justice sector. The panel comprising of Humza Yousaf Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Colin McConnell Chief Executive of SPS, Wendy Sinclair- Gieben HM Chief Inspector of Prisons (Scotland) and Phil Fairlie Scottish National Chairman. The event similar in style to BBC’s Question Time would see the panel take previously unseen questions from the delegates and provide their responses to conference. As soon as all the panel members arrived the event got underway under the skilful facilitation of Colin Mackay Political Editor for STV news and a welcome friend of conference.
As time was constrained not all questions were able to be put however priority matters that were raised with the panel included the retirement age for prison officers, overcrowding, staff shortages, how staff are portrayed in the media and the degree to which they are supported by the SPS and Scottish Government. All of which contributed to a lively and interesting debate with alternative views expressed as well as a mutual understanding by all panel members on the impact of overcrowding on the management of the estate and on the staff, who require to work under these conditions. Of particular note was the commitment by the Cabinet Secretary to see the prisoner population drop significantly by Spring 2020 based on measures currently under discussion within Scottish Government. The Conference was further delighted to hear the reiteration of the commitment to bring HMP Kilmarnock back into the public sector on completion of its contract in 2024 confirming also that the ownership of the establishment will transfer to SPS. Unfortunately on retirement issues it was much the same message as before with all of the panel accepting the absurdity of the requirement for Prison Officers to work into their late sixties but the fix lies primarily with the UK Government under the Principle Civil Service Scheme as it is considered to be beyond the financial means of the Scottish Government to resolve the matter on its own. More controversially was the debate surrounding the handling by the media, SPS and Scottish Government over recent tragic incidents which saw shocking sensationalist reporting demonising staff. The lively and at times robust debate captured the challenges that all parties have to face when managing such tragic circumstances however the debate made clear the need to recognise that staff directly involved in such sad incidents often suffer mentally when they occur and they require and deserve support. The panel debate was well received by conference and this summarisation cannot do justice to all that was discussed, I would encourage members to read, this section of the verbatim report of Scottish Conference when it’s published.
Following the procedural aspects of conference and the determination on submitted appeals to conference, debate on motions began starting with matters relating to the memberships pay and allowances, as ever the first items on the agenda.
Every year POA(S) have sought to identify a charity that would not only receive a platform to raise awareness of their cause and the profile of their objectives but who would also benefit from the generous donation raised by the Scottish delegates and guests. As there exists many charities, all worthy of consideration, the criteria used by the SNC focuses on the extent to which the monies raised at conference can have greatest impact, therefore we look for a Scottish Charity, generally unsupported by Government or any other regular significant funding and who could greatly benefit from our contribution.
This year’s charity was ‘Finding Your Feet’ a charity focussed on providing support to families affected by amputation or limb difference, through a range of sporting initiatives and social inclusion projects. Operating clubs around Scotland, including a wide range of activities, such as swimming, ski-ing, climbing, gardening crafting, pilates and also singing and fitness. A particular favourite being the ‘Ampu-Teas’ session where folk can go to meet for a chat and coffee. The provision of in-house counsellors and on-line support helps provide the 24/7 support for amputees.
Presenting to Conference on behalf of the charity was Paul Johnson.
Paul informed conference of his personal journey surrounding how he became an double amputee and the challenges he faced in overcoming the mental and physical anguish he suffered to a point where he found the confidence to, not only go back into the social world, but find himself as a public speaking advocate for the charity. Paul’s personal account and the reflection of the impact of the charity on the lives of other amputees and limb different people was powerful, moving and remarkable in the hearing. Inspiring our delegates and guests to generate a fantastic sum, which included the personal contribution from Colin Mackay who kindly donated his fee from facilitating the panel debate, as well as a contribution from our colleagues on the NEC raising a grand total of £4380. A significant sum and one which we know will be put to great use. Well done to all.
Please take time to look up the charity and find out more about the incredible work they do (findingyourfeet.net/ Facebook page www.facebook.com/findingyourfeetcharity/).
ADDRESSES TO CONFERENCE
Conference welcomed the attendance of POA General Secretary Steve Gillan and Mark Fairhurst National Chairman and heard addresses made by both. The news they brought however was less welcome to conference ears and reflected a prison estate under resourced and overpopulated. Staff overworked, under pressure and indeed often under attack. What came over loud and clear was the message that health and safety of staff working in these dangerous environments is of paramount importance and that there will be no repudiation of action taken by our members when trying to defend themselves by protecting their health and safety. The General Secretary reflected on and expressed his gratitude for the level of support he continues to receive from Scotland, demonstrable in the number of nominations he has received during this election period. Conference were also informed of the extent to which financial pressure on the union would necessitate change. Reflecting on relationships that exist with Scottish Government and SPS, the National Chairman recognised the significant difference in approach and desire to spend less time in court defending our members against HMPPS and UK Government, enjoy the right to strike supported by free collective bargaining that has led to the substantial pay increases delivered by the SNC. The forthcoming general election may prove to be the catalyst for change in UK Government and approach that is so badly needed. Common with both addresses was the requirement for unity going forward as this would underpin the strength that was required by our members to face the challenges ahead.
Conference were also addressed by HLM Dave Melrose MBE who proffered the grateful appreciation to the Chair, SNC and Conference delegates for the warm welcome and hospitality shown towards the Honorary Life Members attending conference. Although missing a couple of our ‘well-kent’ faces in the form of ex Chair Bill Stephen and ex General Secretary John Renton (both SPOA) who we hope to see in the near future, it is always a pleasure to welcome those who have provided such magnificent service to the SPOA and POA extending over many years.
MOVING THE BUSINESS
The remainder of conference largely focused on motions for debate and discussion which covered areas such as Conditions of Service, Health and Safety, Uniform and many items under the auspices of miscellaneous. As ever the quality of debate and contribution was high with the delegates ensuring the views of their respective branch membership was properly conveyed and heard. Unusually Conference enjoyed the contribution of two Chairs this year as the Vice Chair required to take on the duties following the Chair’s requirement to attend and provide evidence to the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee who were discussing the 2018/19 audit of the SPS. Given the important nature of the Committee and the pressures and challenges currently experienced by our membership it was considered imperative that the Chairman attend and make known our views. www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/report.aspx?r=12339
The opportunity for the delegates and guests to relax, mingle and network is as important as the work they carry out on behalf of the membership and significantly provides the foundation to the charity raffle to which such generous contributions have been made by branches and individuals. This year’s entertainment through Clanadonia and David McKellor was particularly welcome and appreciated by all. The charitable amounts raised at these events over the years provide testimony if ever needed, of the worthiness and successful contribution that the social aspect of Scottish Conference plays.
As ever the success of a conference can be attributed to many factors, venue, hotel accommodation, staff and general organisation. I am pleased to convey that our first trip to Peebles Hydro was well received and our grateful thanks goes to the staff for the manner in which they looked after our conference delegates and guests and made the experience a happy and worthwhile one. In particular to those young staff who served during the evening dinners and whose attention was second to none. Our grateful thanks go to our guests and visitors, many who have travelled many a mile over land and sea to get there and whose attendance at conference is always welcome. We hope you enjoyed the experience, both professionally and socially and hope to see you all again in the future. Without question our heartfelt thanks go to our stewards who keep the conference secure and ensure our guests are looked after and Kathryn and Lorraine whose contribution to the success of conference can’t be overstated and which extends from the very earliest arrangements to post conference making Scottish Conference the success it has become, well done yet again.
As this report will be the last authored by me before I head off to retirement in the early spring of 2020, I would like to take the opportunity to thank all those who have contributed to making the Scottish Conference the success it has become over the years. The importance of the conference in providing the platform for which the membership in Scotland can express their views and be assured that they are being listened to by those who influence their daily work experiences, can’t be understated. Scottish prisons are managed under the Scottish Government, the Scottish Prison Service is an executive agency of that Scottish Government, and they listen to what our members are saying. The opportunity for our delegates to have direct access to Scottish Government Ministers and influencers of various political parties, justice and social justice arenas over the years is testimony to the high regard that POA Scottish Conference is held. It is right for our members to expect and they deserve, to have their views discussed in an environment that is relevant to them and which reflects the unique political nature of the circumstances. Scottish Conference held in Scotland provides this avenue. POA policy made for Scotland by Scotland in Scotland is as important to the Scottish membership as the unity they share with their colleagues. I wish you all a very successful, safe and secure future.
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.