We must reduce unlock numbers, increase staff-to-prisoner ratios and restore order, discipline and control

As we begin to move out of the pandemic, and prisons and secure hospitals see mitigations gradually reducing, one would hope that our senior leaders have finally grasped what the POA have been telling them for years. “One size fits all” regimes, an obsession with unlocking unmanageable numbers of prisoners with unsafe supervisory levels and the desire to provide unstructured, unpurposeful and pointless association periods that breed violence must be a thing of the past.

One can only hope that their “lessons learned” project will agree that we must reduce unlock numbers, increase staff-toprisoner ratios and restore order, discipline and control. Only then can we even begin to contemplate the “rehab culture” that the latest Government White Paper aspires to achieve.

The staffing crisis in our prisons continues. We are now witnessing the highest attrition rate amongst Prison Officers on record, with a national leaving rate of 12.6%. Amongst OSGs the rate is even higher, at 16%. I know some sites are witnessing attrition rates of 29%. HMPPS exit interviews clearly register that, as well as insufficient pay being a reason for leaving, there is a complete lack of support from management, zero leadership and an unfit-for-purpose career structure.

Gone are the days when the duty Governor used to know everybody’s name because they actually used to visit every area of the prison, sit and engage with staff and iron out any issues. We now find ourselves wondering who these people in suits actually are and what they actually contribute. Time and time again, Inspectorate reports highlight the lack of “management grip” but nothing changes. Without senior managers in prisons, regimes and processes would still run effectively, but without OSGs and Officers everything would grind to a standstill. They need us more than we need them, so now is the time for some prison Governors to sit up, take note of frontline staff, change their attitudes and behaviours towards us and support us instead of looking for ways to investigate and dismiss us. Interestingly, as a law enforcement agency and an essential public service we are the only frontline public body that does not issue uniform to those in positions of hierarchy. Maybe it’s time to make our service a truly uniformed one throughout?

As the cost-of-living crisis continues to hit us all extremely hard, now is the time for our supposedly independent pay review body to display to the POA membership their true independence by calling for a significant pay increase for all staff across the board. With a pay freeze last year and inflation hitting levels above 5%, now is the time to reward staff for their heroic efforts over the past two years.

As a closed grade member of staff, I have been enraged by my employer’s derisory recommendations towards closed-grade pay. A 2% increase in pay will only lead to even lower morale, apathy and a further exodus of experienced staff leaving to gain employment on a similar wage with less risk and more palatable working hours – and believe me there are plenty of vacancies that meet those criteria. In reality, an award of 2% for closed grades is at least a 4.75% cut in salary when you factor in inflation and the pending National Insurance hike. I would encourage you all to factor this in when you read your employer’s pay submissions – all is not what it appears to be! All staff across the board deserve an above-inflation rise and I will be vehemently stating the case during oral submissions to the pay review body. Of course, it’s all well and good the review body recommending a decent and well-deserved pay rise, but we are then relying on Government actually to accept and approve it. The courts have already decided that they are legally within their rights not to accept any recommendations they do not like. This just backs up my belief that, without doubt, we are the most restricted trade union on planet Earth! The time has come for this Government to respect and reward the brave staff who keep society safe by accommodating the most volatile, damaged and dangerous people our communities are glad to be rid of. They must either pay us what we are worth or accept responsibility for a staffing crisis from which we will never recover.

As conference approaches, it will be great to see people face-to-face again. If it is your first time attending, please do come and introduce yourself to me and say hello. It has been a long two years and I am positive all delegates will be relishing the opportunity to meet up with friends and colleagues from across the entire United Kingdom.

Finally, I would just like to pass on my solidarity to all those who are under siege in Ukraine. I cannot imagine the horrors and uncertainty they face.

Hopefully, peace and reconciliation will reign.

Until next time, I look forward to meeting those attending conference, and please continue to support each other and work as safely as you can. In solidarity to you all.


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.