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Please ensure all POA members view the contents of this Circular.
STAFF FITNESS TESTS
I recently made a request to HMPPS to postpone their planned reintroduction of staff fitness testing due to begin in October. This was to help diminish the many anxieties staff are experiencing about conducting their fitness tests during a rise in Covid infection rates. I am pleased to announce that this request has been agreed and staff fitness testing will not be reintroduced until January 2021 at the earliest.
UPDATE ON UNIFORM
A new uniform supplier has now been chosen and the contract has been awarded. The design of the uniform is physically the same. The only changes are material and quality, which we are told has been improved. All materials required are now in stock and being manufactured into garments.
All Garments are the same as currently in stock with the addition of maternity trousers and blouses. These will be additional to uniform allowance. There is also new PEI Uniform.
Allocation of Uniform is currently done annually when staff order in a ‘window’. In the new system they will be able to order online and draw down on their annual allowance as and when they require them.
Replacement items will now also move to the online system. Uniform should normally be provided within 48 hours but there is a facility to provide uniform within 48 hours in emergencies.
Go Live will have 2 dates, 5th October for new starters and the end of January for everybody else. If existing staff require additional Uniform prior to January, they will be able to order it. Alternative footwear can be provided following OH advice. Communication will go out to all staff shortly.
SURGICAL FACE MASKS
HMPPS have asked for the POA opinion about the mandatory wearing of fluid resistant face masks for all staff on duty within our Prisons. I know many NEC officials have asked for feedback from branches about this proposal. HMPPS will ultimately adhere to the most up to date Public Health England advice on the wearing of face masks in Prisons. As the threat of Covid in our communities increases there may be a need to mandate the wearing of face masks for staff in Prisons.
We think a more pragmatic approach would be to allow any staff who wish to do so the option of wearing a face mask whilst on duty.
As soon as a decision is made, I will update you further.
PRIORITY COVID TESTS
There are ongoing discussions to get Prison staff priority access to Covid tests if they are symptomatic. We are aware that regionally there are many issues with trying to secure a test if you think you may have contracted Covid. Discussions with PHE and the Government are ongoing.
REFRESHMENTS IN VISITS
The POA recently objected to plans to reintroduce refreshments in the social visits setting. We felt this was an unnecessary risk and posed many unacceptable issues for supervising staff. I am pleased to announce that HMPPS have agreed not to open refreshments areas in social visits at this moment in time.
RPE (Smoke Hood) training will begin to be reintroduced locally. We are aware of the concerns surrounding the donning and doffing of smoke hoods during training sessions and have agreed adequate cleaning and sanitising procedures to ensure your safety.
The Prison Service Pay Review Body recently recommended the following:
We recommend that from 1 September 2020 the Fair and Sustainable National Band 3 base pay points increase by £2,564 giving a total consolidated and pensionable award of £3,000 when the 17 per cent unsocial hours payment is included. On 1 September 2020, this replaces the ‘amber’ market supplement and £3,000 of the ‘red’ market supplement for those Band 3 staff who currently receive them.
The Government are still considering this recommendation and no decision has yet been made by them. There is likely to be a decision by the Government after the comprehensive spending review outcome.
We continue to consider our options should the Government refuse to impose this recommendation.
I am pleased to announce that funding for a POA memorial has been approved by the POA Welfare Fund Committee. This memorial will be a fitting tribute to all our ex-service colleagues who have fallen in past campaigns and to all our members who have sadly passed. It will be sited at the National Arboretum in Stafford. Once a final draft has been commissioned and work has commenced, I will update the membership on the anticipated completion date. I would like to place on record my sincerest thanks for the assistance of POA member Rick Preece at HMP Full Sutton for his continued work and with me in making this possible.
SHIELDING RISK ASSESSMENT REVIEWS
Staff who have returned to work after a period of shielding are reminded that their Covid Workplace Risk Assessment should be reviewed at least every 4 weeks and no cross deployment that places them at risk should be allowed. If staff do not receive a regular review and have concerns, they should notify their local branch committee. Alongside the regular reviews, there is the option to revisit the risk assessment at any point that the individual feels their safety has been compromised. The reviews may be more frequent if your Prison is in an area subject to local restrictions.
REPORT ON NPS
As per POA Conference Policy the POA commissioned independent research into staff exposure to NPS. An interim report will be published soon. These tests were carried out at HMP Winchester pre Covid. A further planned set of tests at HMP Low Newton will be stayed until the threat of Covid has significantly diminished.
REGIME STAGE 2
Although Governors may plan to progress regimes to level 2 it is envisaged that due to the current Government restrictions in society and the prevalence of Covid, Prisons will not progress to level 2 in great numbers if at all at this time. If any committees have concerns that their SMT intend to progress regimes irresponsibly they should immediately contact their Area NEC Representative. Local committees are reminded that additional facility time for engagement has been approved.
A draft paper for Utility Vests is to be discussed at the next Physical Safety Board meeting. The POA have asked HMPPS to provide utility vests due to the amount of kit staff need to carry on duty.
The consultation period with the Government about the future of public sector pensions closes on 11th October 2020. It is anticipated that a final outcome will be published in Spring 2021, if not before. The POA have asked for separate discussions surrounding pensions due to the unique features of our occupation. We continue to argue for a retirement age of 60 for all frontline staff in our secure settings.
LOCAL LOCKDOWN RESTRICTIONS
We have been made aware of concerns from members who work in Prisons within regional lockdown areas. Many of the concerns surround social visits being allowed to continue when households in local areas are not allowed to mix. Please consider the following most up to date information in relation to these concerns.
HMPPS legal advice confirmed the need for proportionality as restrictions on social visits impact upon Article 8 rights. This is particularly significant when considering children and equalities issues. A blanket restriction is likely to be judged as disproportionate in all but the most extreme circumstances. It was decided that the stage 3 EDM for social visits, which allows visits by a limited number of close family members (or significant others), could be reintroduced in prisons, and visitors from the local restriction areas could be accepted as visitors in any prison. Prior to taking this action, each prison should consult with local Public Health England officials and seek their advice regarding levels of infection with the local community, infection and risk within the particular prison and, the sufficiency of COVID secure measures within visits. There should also be local consultation with staff associations. These consultations may identify the need for local action or restrictions, which should be time bounded and subject to regular review. The outcome should be communicated to the PGD office and Gold command team.
COMPARTMENTALISATION AND COHORTING STRATEGY
Following an update to the Compartmentalisation and Cohorting Strategy, Reverse Cohorting is no longer required in all parts of the estate. All prisoners on entry into custody MUST still Reverse Cohort in line with current operational guidance. On transfer however, it is only necessary to Reverse Cohort at the receiving site where the sending site is deemed 'Red,' or 'Amber.' A panel comprising of Senior Operational and Health colleagues sits weekly and exceptionally to determine which sites should be identified as 'Red,' or 'Amber.' In most cases, 'Red' sites will fall into one of 2 categories:
1. Declared an Outbreak Site
2. Located in or adjacent to an area where regional restrictions are in place.
'Amber,' sites will be decided by the panel based on Regional prevalence rates (as agreed with relevant Public Health body) although operational judgement, including the risk presented by prisoner flows and the current internal indicators will be taken into consideration.
This is a slight change from previous language around Red and Green sites and now brings reverse cohorting status and regime restrictions together.
The outcome of each panel will be updated on the below link:
Included within this spreadsheet will be a live list of Regional Restrictions as implemented on a Government level. All 'Red,' sites should review their regime offer as outlined in the HMPPS Strategy for Reintroducing Regime Restriction (found in the Stage 2 Recovery Guidance).
Regime reviews should be conducted by the establishment and PGD in consultation with Local Health and Justice Providers, Local Health and Safety Leads, Local recognised Trade Unions and other Key Stakeholders. The starting premise for all regime reviews is to seek to maintain as progressive and safe a regime as possible up and to the current agreed regime stage.
Where additional restrictions are required, they should affect the fewest number of people in as limited a way as is possible to control the risk posed.
Where the recommended restrictions amount to a full regression to an earlier Regime Stage, the suspension of Social Visits, or the desire to stop transfer of prisoners in or out, this must be approved through Gold.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those branches who have hosted my visits. All Covid procedures continue to be adhered to and I have been impressed by the working practices adopted by all staff. I will continue to visit as many branches as I can and look forward to receiving your invites to do so as and when you feel it is safe for me to access your site.
Thank you for your continued support.
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.