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Iam writing this in the same month that a year ago the whole country, our prisons included, had life turned upside down in a way nobody could have predicted. A year on, with so much that has happened in that time, and we are still deep in the COVID environment, and lives are still not as we recognise, or hope for.
It would be wrong or inaccurate to say nothing has changed though. Time has not stood still completely at least. While it is fair to say there are differing pictures in different parts of the UK, all our prisons are coping with the same issues and challenges, just in varying degrees.
In Scotland we continue to be extremely grateful that the early fears and predictions of mass outbreaks and significant deaths has not materialised, although we have not come through this without some loss, and our thoughts continue to be with those grieving for loved ones.
As I write this, we have a significant outbreak in HMP Dumfries as well as in both of the private prisons here in Scotland. We have also had various spikes in several prisons at the tail end of the year. All of those continue to be managed well, and the control mechanisms in place have helped control the spread and limit the health impacts on those affected. As ever, the staff are again due enormous credit, not just for their contribution to creating as safe an environment as possible in the circumstance, but also for their commitment and resilience in continuing to turn up and deliver every day, in what are without doubt challenging circumstances for all.
There is a roll out of testing taking place in our prisons for staff, and we continue to seek to influence having prison staff and prisoners regarded as a priority for the vaccination programme in the next phase. All the signs are that the message is heard and recognised, and we are hopeful that prisons will feature early.
INDEPENDENT REVIEW INTO THE RESPONSE TO DEATHS IN PRISON CUSTODY
The Cabinet Secretary for Justice set up a review group last year headed up by the HMCIP Wendy Sinclair-Gieben, to look at the arrangements in place following a death in custody. The work of the review has stalled due to COVID but is about to be reinstated and communications have gone out to the field about the purpose and aims of the review. Wendy will be joined by Judith Robertson, Chair of the Scottish Human Rights Commission, and Professor Nancy Loucks OBE, Chief Exec of Families Outside.
Following discussions between ourselves and the HMCIP we are pleased to say that staff are being invited to participate in this review, and are invited to interview so that they too, can have their voices heard in this review. Any staff members who have been involved in any capacity with a death in custody will be contacted and afforded the opportunity to express their thoughts, experiences, and suggestions in and around how the event itself, and then the processes that follow, feel and impact on a personal level for those staff who are directly impacted by such an event.
The POA are supportive of staff involvement and see it as the opportunity to have as full a picture and understanding of the impact a death in custody has on everyone who is involved, probably for the first time. All too often it is taken for granted that staff are there only doing their job, and the personal cost of that can be significant. It is important that the opportunity of a voice is given to that experience, which is why we are encouraging staff to take part.
It will not be for everyone, and we understand that. However, participation is entirely voluntary, its anonymous, the information cannot be used for any other purpose, and staff can withdraw their consent for their information to be withdrawn from the review at any time.
There is also a recognition that opening up and speaking about these events may be troubling for some which is why the review team, and the correspondence relating to it all signpost staff to support services should they feel they need it.
NEW CHAIR SNC
We have just elected a new Chair here in Scotland, following a delayed interim election; again a victim of COVID. John Cairney has been elected as Chair for a 5-year term and takes up his post formally in May 2021. John has been on the SNC since 2019, and previously served as Branch Chair in HMP Barlinnie.
As the previous incumbent for almost 10 years before taking up this role, I just want to wish John all the very best in his new role. It is without doubt the most rewarding, yet challenging role I have ever held in 25 years as a trade union official. It comes with enormous responsibility, but it also comes with tremendous opportunity. He has shown himself already to be hard working, committed, and conscientious about his responsibilities. All of those will stand him in good stead and I have no doubt he will go on to be a success in his new role.
SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT BUDGET 2021
Following the announcement of the Scottish budget by the Finance Secretary it is worth clarifying here the impact on prison officers in Scotland. With the UK government announcing yet another pay freeze for public sector workers, Kate Forbes announced a pay policy in Scotland of 1%. Why is it always those who give the most in times of need, are always the first to be punished or ignored when it comes to recognition or reward?
You will remember that for prison officers, we signed a 3-year deal 2019-22, with this being year 3 of that deal. The Scottish government pay policy does NOT apply to us for this year, and the terms of our deal are being honoured by the government and employer. In short prison officers will receive the 4% rise as per the pay deal, and FLM’s whose pay is beyond the threshold will receive 2% consolidated, and a further 1% non-consolidated.
Discussions are about to take place about pay reform for the structural issues of the 3-year deal, which was about the setting up of separate frameworks for uniform staff, from non-operational staff. These discussions go in tandem with talks around pay cohesion for Scottish government agencies, which has also stalled due to COVID priorities.
RETIREMENT OF LORRAINE JACKSON
Lorraine Jackson has worked for the POA and prior to that the SPOA, since the summer of 1998. She is a ‘weel kent’ face and voice to all our branch officials, and to members who have had occasion to phone our office over the years, in Calder Road. Lorraine retires on the 31st of March, although this will be past tense by the time you are reading this. She has worked in a job share role with Kathryn throughout the whole of that time, and between them they have been synonymous with the efficient professional running of our office on behalf of the membership here in Scotland. Lorraine has seen many an elected official come and go in her time, and various configurations of SNC tables. It is entirely predictable but telling nonetheless, that those ex-officials many of whom are now our HLM’s, still regard Lorraine not as an ex-colleague, but as a friend for whom they/we, all have the warmest regard for.
I have worked alongside Lorraine in various elected posts for all of her time with the POA, and I have benefitted from her professionalism, her knowledge, and assistance throughout every one of those years. I too regard her as a friend, alongside Ian, her husband.
Her closest friendship in work, and the person who will miss her the most of course is Kathryn, having been the ‘other half’ who each has shared the near quarter of a century with the most (at least as far as work is concerned!)
It has been a pleasure to have been around with Lorraine, through some incredible moments in the POA history here in Scotland, and on behalf of all of us who have worked with her for all these years, can I just say, thank you, and wish you all the very best in a long and happy retirement.
It is also an appropriate point, and the one in which to sign off with, in thanking once again all our staff (and families) for continuing to work so hard and giving over your homes, in the most trying of times on behalf of the membership of the POA.
Assistant 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.