General Secretary: The priorities 2020 to 2025 - The Way Forward

Since the last Gatelodge edition circulated in December 2019 much has happened. The Conservatives won the General Election with a very large majority. Britain has officially left the European Union, although there will be a transitional period until the end of 2020 where negotiations will take place.

I am well aware that leaving the EU divided opinion but the POA did not have a policy on whether we were in favour of leaving or indeed of remaining but we did have a policy that stated when we left the EU after the referendum that above all the POA and the wider union movement should resist any attempt to water down workers rights and a close eye over the coming years will need to be focussed to ensure that workers rights are maintained and indeed enhanced.


The POA have always been clear we want to work constructively with any Government. The British population have democratically elected a Conservative Government. I would like to congratulate Mr Robert Buckland QC in remaining in his position as the Lord Chancellor, and Secretary of State for Justice along with Lucy Frazer QC as Prisons Minister. One of my biggest criticisms was a lack of continuity in these very important positions. Having met the Lord Chancellor prior to the General Election he seems a sincere man who wants to do business with the POA. There will be occasions when we will not always agree on some policy issues with Government but with the stability of the Lord Chancellor and Prisons Minister being appointed again in the Cabinet reshuffle it gives a foundation for real policy decisions to be made as our Prisons and Criminal Justice System have been in crisis for far too long. The POA stand ready to engage with Ministers on a whole variety of topics to make our prisons safer for those that work in them and indeed the prisoners in our care.


Phil Copple had been the acting Director General of Prisons since January 2019 and was subsequently appointed to the post permanently in November 2019. I am sure many POA members will know that Mr Copple has worked in the Prison Service for 30 years. He has worked his way up through the ranks including being a Prison Officer before undertaking a range of managerial posts. I certainly know from speaking to many of our members and branch officials in the North East where they speak highly of him when he was Governor at Deerbolt and Frankland before becoming Area Manager. Since Mr Copple was appointed to the Board of Directors in 2011 as General Secretary, I have a high regard for his knowledge and passion for the Prison Service. In negotiations and consultations with him I have found him to be articulate and whilst we have not always agreed on issues, I have respect for the work that he carries out as a Senior Civil Servant. I look forward to continuing a healthy relationship with Mr Copple in the coming years and hopefully the dialogue that the POA NEC have with his officials can make our working environment more successful.


I am immensely proud to have won the election from May 2020 until May 2025. Any individual who stands in an election at national level wants as many members to vote in that election. Having studied over a period of time not just this unions turnout but unions in general our voting patterns are not that different to other unions. Having said that the legislation doesn’t assist union members in obtaining high turnouts and needs to be brought into the modern era with online voting and indeed secure work-place ballots. Putting that to one side I am delighted to have a third term as the POA General Secretary, and I will continue to work hard on behalf of the membership. I am grateful to those branches who supported my nomination and indeed those who voted as I secured 57 per cent of the vote. The POA is more important than any individual and I will always remember that and never take for granted the trust that has been placed in me. The priorities must continue that have been set by Conference, those being pension age, health and safety at work, pay and terms and conditions. Over the next five years we need to work together to persuade Government and the employer to value the work of all POA members in their workplaces.


At Conference 2019 the Cuffe report was overwhelmingly supported and work has continued with sub committee’s set up by Mr Cuffe. I think it is worth analysing why an internal review was needed and indeed endorsed by Conference. The POA are a proud trade union and have a very proud history. But like every organisation we cannot stand still as to do so would not be forward thinking. It was important to get someone independent as self- scrutiny doesn’t always have a positive outcome. Fresh eyes, but more importantly, listening to what branch officials stated and indeed wanted was just as important and that is what Mr Cuffe delivered in his report which was controversial at times. As he stated at conference, he only delivered what he was told by branch officials. I don’t agree with everything in the report and I am sure many of the NEC don’t either, but it was important to have our union scrutinised if we are to be fit for a future generation. Mr Cuffe actually did a report on the Irish Prison Officers Association and it would appear they are reaping the rewards of that report and recommendations. Ultimately it will be up to Annual Conference to judge what changes if any are required following the work done by the sub-committees. At least in the midst of time irrespective of what the delegates decide we can say we were brave enough to do a root and branch review of our union. It doesn’t matter what my view is on any outcome, the most important outcome is what conference determine and that is democracy. We should never ever be afraid to change the way we do things in the POA. I want this trade union to be an independent trade union for as long as possible and long after I have gone. As stated, the POA is more important than any individual.


The above wording is the theme for our conference in 2020 and we shouldn’t just have that theme for the duration of conference it should be the theme for 2020. All too often a minority of our members talk this great trade union down unnecessarily. The POA have been hugely successful from having a healthy Welfare Fund that has charity status and assists our members tremendously in their time of need and believe me as someone who sits on that committee I am immensely proud of the financial support we have given to our members and their loved ones in their time of need. The POA locally and nationally have tremendous individuals who represent the membership in the workplace to the best of their ability whether it is representing individuals at grievances or investigations. The support mechanisms there for our members are something to be very proud of. In today’s climate it is very difficult to measure what success is but sometimes we do not highlight enough of what should be considered a success. It was this trade union that campaigned for PAVA, body worn cameras and rigid bar cuffs. We have been successful. It was this trade union that campaigned to get smoking stopped in the workplace and we were successful. It was this trade union that campaigned to increase staffing levels in our prisons and they have started to rise although not at the 2010 level. It was this trade union that has won landmark cases by funding legal cases and on vicarious liability and indeed on annual leave. The POA have also won cases of unfair dismissal in the Special Hospitals and defended our members and got them acquitted on criminal charges when the Crown Prosecution Service lay charges against our members at various different establishments. Where our members maintain their innocence in such cases the POA and our legal team will always be by their side. In personal injury cases we have secured through our legal team compensation for our members on a yearly basis. There are many positives in being a POA member and sometimes we under estimate the value in being a POA member. This union continues to grow and evolve and going forward we must strive to make a difference for all our members no matter where they work. 2020 will be a year that will present difficulties, but I believe together united there will be more positives than negatives for our membership.

Steve Gillan
General Secretary

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.