National Chair Update March 2021

Please relay the contents of this circular to all POA members.

In Memory

As we reflect on the anniversary of the first Covid lockdown I would like to remember colleagues and friends who are no longer with us. Please take a private moment to honour the memory of all those who we have lost over the past 12 months. HMPPS plan on arranging a memorial service once all restrictions have been lifted. 

Staff Shielding

On 31st March, the Government have decreed that shielding will come to an end. This means that all staff who have been shielding can begin to return to work from April 1st. New guidance is to be published that will confirm that staff returning to work from shielding must have an individual risk assessment undertaken and must be provided with a copy of the various revised workplace risk assessments (e.g. specific office or work area) before there is any decision on whether a return to work is possible. Staff may return in a phased way if they wish. They should also be briefed on Safe Operating Procedures and be fully aware of all Safe Systems of Work. All members returning to work should seek the support of their local committees. If there are any disagreements your area NEC representative will be available to assist.

Have your say!

The NEC are currently engaged in consultation with HMPPS surrounding the future delivery of regimes. We need your views from the frontline on how you would like to see future regimes shaped. We wish to abandon the days of association and full wing unlock to replace it with purposeful, meaningful, safe on wing activities for prisoners in smaller more manageable numbers.

Any POA member who wishes to forward their views or express an interest to engage in remote focus groups should forward an email to entitled ‘Regime Review’.

Regime Progression

HMPPS have started the process to progress regimes from level 4 to level 3. A robust procedure is in place to assess suitability for regime progression. Local committees must be consulted and any disagreements in relation to regime progression should be referred to Area NEC representatives.

It is expected that progression will be gradual, and that it will be some time before large numbers of establishments are in a position to progress due to ongoing COVID-19 risks and staffing pressures. Establishments will be able to progress when the time is right, and the COVID-19 risk is locally controlled.

Once an establishment has been given approval from the Gold Regime panel to progress to Stage 3, the default position is that sites will revert to their Local Operating Procedures for Stage 3 EDM delivery of regime following a review of the Recovery RMP. Establishments will not be required to ‘switch on’ all Local Operating Procedures simultaneously and can manage the re-introduction of regime elements locally. Given the continuing restrictions in the community however, and the need to ensure that the easing of restrictions is cautious, there will be some additional short-term restrictions to individual Stage 3 elements. These restrictions are listed below; any areas not covered are subject to existing Local Operating Procedure.

Visits: Face to face social visits will initially remain suspended at Stage 3 in adult establishments, given the community restriction on travel. The only face-to-face visits that will operate are those facilitated under exceptional compassionate circumstances which a Governor can approve locally. The position in the YCS will continue as per the Gold Brief which states that face-to-face social visits are able to be facilitated in YCS establishments in cases of compassionate circumstances.

Face-to-face official visits continue to be available. However, remote access via telephone or digital channels should be prioritised wherever possible but establishments must continue to offer the option of a face-to-face visit to those legal representatives who require or request it.

Group Activities: As per relevant Stage 3 EDMs, in adult establishments group face-to-face activities (including education, communal worship and small group activities delivered in the women’s estate) can be reintroduced at Stage 3. There should be a continued focus on preventing the mixing of those from different parts of the establishment, and existing risk assessments must be abided by and shared with affected unions. The Education EDM was revised as part of the winter regime review to include provision for 1-1 interview and small group work on wings and to facilitate limited classroom-based activity, considering the continued restriction on learning centres. 

Workshops and Industries: At Stage 3, essential workshops, and others already approved by Gold can be reintroduced 

ROTL: Establishments can reintroduce the forms of ROTL permitted at Stage 3 (e.g. for work, for education, for resettlement etc) but must comply with community restrictions on travel and household mixing.

Keywork – Aware of the negative impacts that prolonged lock down regimes can have on mental wellbeing, establishments are encouraged to maintain focus on wellbeing as they transition to Stage 3.

Physical Education: At Stage 3 establishments cannot yet allow free access to the gym. In both England and Wales, indoor structured physical activity will be permitted for both staff and prisoners, as was operated during the period of national restrictions in November. 

It is essential that all local committees update their Area NEC representative on plans to progress regimes. If you disagree with your SMT plans to progress regimes your Area rep will intervene. They cannot intervene if they do not know what the issues are. 

Fitness testing

HMPPS have confirmed the following in relation to staff fitness tests:

No start date has yet been confirmed as it will need to be fully considered alongside other priorities as part of our recovery journey. We would like to provide as much notice as possible to establishments prior to re-commencement, to encourage staff to re-start their exercise regime, for which support will be provided at establishment level where requested.

Promotion Assessments

Following H&S advice and consultation with the Executive Directors, CMAC will begin delivery from 13th April 2021. Capacity will be in line with H&S risk assessment, with PPE and hand sanitisation available for all staff. Results will be confirmed around mid-June, dependent on the final numbers of candidates. The NTS for staff will be published on the intranet, with a deadline for applications of 30th March 2021.

A proposal for online assessment for HFAC, DGAC and GAC for the remainder of the year is being explored and we will confirm in due course what the delivery format will be. 


Please refer to POA Circular 24/2021 for the latest update on pensions.

Any member who has questions relating to the Governments response to the consultation on Public Sector pensions should forward them to:

It is my intention to formulate a Q&A Circular in relation to the Government proposals which can be accessed via this link: 

Market Supplements

Many members are expressing concerns that Shared Services have informed them that their Market Supplement payment will cease from April 1st. This is not accurate.

HMPPS have confirmed that whilst they await a decision from Treasury to extend this payment all staff will continue to receive this payment.

Sub Committee for Female and Youth Custody Estate

The NEC are formulating two new committees to service the needs of staff working in the Female and Youth Custody Estates. Any members working in these estates who wish to highlight issues they face at work should refer them to their local committee so the NEC can take them forward at a National level.

Secure Hospitals

The POA are currently involved in a consultation along with other recognised health unions, regarding the “Reforming the Mental Health Act White Paper.” This review affects England only. Any POA member who wishes to engage can access the review via the following link. The POA will formulate a response.


POA Scotland

The process for electing the new SNC Chair has concluded. I am pleased to announce that John Cairney was the only candidate and has received the required nomination(s) to allow him to take up the post. John has been on the SNC since May 2019. He will officially take up his post in May, with Jim McCabe, Vice Chair continuing to act up until then.

Testing is being introduced to Scottish prisons this month. It will initially be 3 prisons to begin with; HMP Perth, HMP Dumfries and HMP Greenock. The rest of the estate will then have testing introduced in early April. It is of course voluntary, and staff only. Scottish Government have taken the same approach as UK Government on vaccines and stuck to ‘by age profile’ rather than sectoral approach.

Northern Ireland POA Area Committee

The Northern Ireland Area Committee are presently considering two reports commissioned last summer, one in relation to the support services provided for operational prison staff and one dealing with the support services provided for retired prison staff. These reviews cover a wide range of services including support for retired members, pay grading, recruitment and ongoing training and support services for operational staff.

OMiC in Private Sector

I can confirm that in private sector prisons where the POA have recognition rights HMPPS have agreed that all staff working in an operational capacity in OMiC departments should be band 4 staff. HMPPS are currently re negotiating contracts to reflect this position.

Lateral Flow Testing

All POA members are encouraged to volunteer for LFT in their workplaces. This will help us to keep staff safe and reduce the threat of Covid. HMPPS have now received permission to introduce LFT for staff within their own homes. The home tests will be issued from March 29th. Members should note that taking the test is purely voluntary and no staff should be placed under duress by senior managers to take a test against their will. You cannot be placed at a detriment by refusing to take a test and are free to continue to work PP and use facilities.

As we begin to ease restrictions and enhance regimes it is critical that we do so in a cautious and sensible manner. There is no rush to expand regimes. Please continue to support each other and take every precaution to work safely. The NEC remain available to you all to ensure your working environment is as safe as it can be.

I would like to personally thank each and every one of you for the outstanding work you continue to do and have done over the last 12 traumatic months. Look after yourselves and your loved ones. 

On behalf of the NEC.


Thank you.

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.