Inforamtion from our Annual Federation Conference.
BRITISH TRANSPORT POLICE FEDERATION
SPEECH BY CHAIRMAN: MR GEORGE LEWIS
ON WEDNESDAY 7 MARCH 2012 AT THE
PARK INN HOTEL, YORK
Welcome to our annual conference. As well as our own delegates we have colleagues from Federations throughout the United Kingdom. I am particularly pleased to welcome the representatives from Europe and Scandinavia. You are very welcome as we greatly value your support. Being police officers most of you will already have observed that we are minus the Minister from the Department for Transport. That absence is despite the best efforts of this table and of our advisers. I can only apologise for that.
Over the past 18 months all of us here in the UK Federations have been part of a very robust campaign led by the Police Federation for England &Wales to explain to Tom Winsor and the Home Office why our pay levels and our current terms and conditions are justified. The Government has not heeded our arguments as well as they might have.
But at least some of our points must have got across and were recognised as valid by the findings of the Police Arbitration Tribunal into Winsor Part One.
Unfortunately the debate has been acrimonious at times and accompanied by sharp media exchanges and propaganda encouraged, if not directly sponsored, by the Home Office and so-called think-tanks.
It is disappointing that Ministers with responsibilities for a non-Home Office police force decided to give us the official cold shoulder. Seemingly they don't consider it necessary for them to engage with the Federation which represents the officers of the Force for which they are politically accountable to Parliament.
This has all the hallmarks of a cynical and unfair rebuff to the Federation. I would remind Ministers that, unlike their civil servants, police officers are not permitted access to industrial action. Nor do we have the industrial muscle to strike or even to work to rule. In the absence of the right to take industrial action we have been compensated through regular access to Ministers for consultation.
We have not abused that right. We have also had Ministers coming to our conferences to hear firsthand the issues which concern our members. We have not always had agreement on these issues but Ministers have always been courteously received. These have not been simple show occasions. I am very aware that over the years dialogue at these events has been constructive for both parties. Better understanding between a Government Minister and the Federation can only lead to a better relationship and that can only be good for policing... and the public we serve.
As the new Chairman of the British Transport Police Federation of just three weeks I am already conscious of the challenges facing us. The first is to make sure that our voice is heard at the highest level. I will be asking for an early meeting with the Department and relevant Ministers.
FUTURE OF POLICING
I have been a frontline police officer with the BTP for 26 years with all the relevant experience and insights into policing that brings. I intend to pursue the interests of my 2800 members with all the energy that I and my elected colleagues with your backing can command.
The police service is having a torrid time at the moment. And I see little relief ahead.
The Winsor Report Part One has been superseded by the findings of the Police Arbitration Tribunal. The PAT proceedings relate, in strictest terms, only to the police service of England and Wales.
However, we watch the deliberations of the Police Negotiating Board very closely.
What is decided there or as a result of the Police Arbitration Tribunal is soon on the agenda of the Department, our Police Authority and this Federation.
The reality is that the recommendations of the Tribunal, as recently accepted by the Home Secretary will form the blue print for the treatment of the pay and conditions of the entire police service. Winsor Part Two is likely to add to our sense that long term damage is being done to policing as a career and to the police service as a whole.
The public will become disenchanted if the quality of service it rightly demands cannot be delivered as the effects of these changes become apparent.
The Scottish Police service has managed to opt out of Winsor and we can only hope that for them their good fortune in preserving existing terms and conditions proves long term.
We will of course have an anomaly created. Our 200 BTP colleagues based in Scotland will find themselves earning less and enduring a less supportive work/life balance than their Scottish police counterparts.
Should potential BTP recruits decide to vote with their feet and opt for the Scottish police service, I can foresee that major problems will eventually arise through the loss of the specialist expertise in policing the Scottish railways.
That is but one example of the law of unintended consequences.
But all that is ahead of us. Almost uniquely the British Transport Police has continued to grow in numbers. Over 100 officers were recruited in the past few months bringing the strength to over 2,800.
And over the past six years significant investment has been made in training, equipment and technology, a combination which has helped to maximise the EFFECTIVENESS of our officers and operations. I think we can all agree that investment has paid off. Our police performance record is of a high standard. We have met two-thirds of our national targets and over 92 per cent of our local targets. This year's figures reveal a seventh successive annual decrease in notifiable crime including a 2.8 per cent fall in violent crime and a 1.6 per cent reduction in robberies.
We achieved these results because of the professionalism and commitment of our members.
Our reward, however, is not a sense of security but deep concern for the future of policing, a concern that includes what will happen to the BTP after the Olympics Games. It may not be just the competitors packing their bags but perhaps experienced BTP officers as well.
The London 2012 Olympic and Paralympics Games have been designated the Public Transport Games. That recognition of spectators, competitors and organisers, all being dependent upon our rail and road network to get them to and from some 34 arenas and venues brings a massive logistical and security challenge.
The dependency on public transport for the Games is both their strength and their vulnerability.
Small wonder then that it is the British Transport Police which will shoulder the major responsibility for the delivery of a safe and enjoyable experience to the expected half a million additional passengers who will make rail journeys each day.
And this will be on top of the existing four and half million people who daily use the London Underground.
Against that background we have a growing sense of uncertainty for our policing careers.
Police officers are neither unaware of the pressures on the public finances, nor are we immune to the cost-cutting programme right across all Government Departments , local authorities and NGOs.
A general cut of 20 per cent over four years will seriously affect policing performance.
Recent figures show that in the rest of the UK the number of police officers has fallen to its lowest since 2002, down to 137,000. Nearly 9,000 civilian staff have also gone in the past 12 months. Of course we are told that reported crime fell last year by four per cent.
This linking of falling crime levels and reducing police numbers is deliberately being misinterpreted by Government as meaning that we can succeed in reducing crime figures with fewer officers.
Everyone else, police officers and members of the public alike, know that if crime has fallen it is because of the number of officers on the street.
Keep cutting police numbers and crime will rise, especially if there is no foreseeable end to this economic recession. One of the consequences of cutting police numbers is that we are losing our most experienced officers. We are losing quality as well as quantity.
We should take heed of what has happened to the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Having dispensed with the services of long-serving officers the PSNI have had to make up the operational shortfall by bringing back the same officers as civilian support staff.
They may be unwarranted employees but over 350 retired officers are effectively back doing their pre-retirement work.
And ironically the PSNI is also placing advertisements in Britain seeking to recruit specialist crime officers, officers that we cannot really afford to let go. Reducing police numbers in the BTP can only be achieved through natural wastage and a freeze on recruitment.
Other police forces can also make officers redundant through police regulations. Whichever method is used the lesson is that police performance will suffer.
The latest cost-cutting wheeze, announced just last weekend for Surrey and West Midland, is an expansion of the contribution of the private sector through the surrender of certain police functions. We already have had some expansion of that concept with the introduction of Police Community Support Officers. If we are to have two tier policing why stop there? Further privatisation which may actually include neighbourhood patrolling will lead to three tier policing. The public will become increasingly confused, frustrated and frankly I believe that the expansion of the private sector will lead to a deterioration in law and order standards. The delivery of policing services should be left in the hands of the police service where the public interest can be properly safeguarded.
MESSAGE TO GOVERNMENT
The Government will not want to hear this stark message but it is grounded in solid - policing - experience. It is a message which conveys the views of this audience, an audience which includes my own members and representatives from all the UK police federations and even colleagues from abroad.
It is not only police numbers and pay which are being cut but the working conditions of individual officers are also being compromised.
The Police Arbitration Panel recommendations and doubtless Winsor Part Two will apply in due course to the BTP.
I, for one, welcome the Home Secretary's ratification of the P-A-T recommendations but I have to challenge the wisdom of the freezing of the increments of officers above point 3 of the pay scale. This double hit of no cost of living increase and no increment is punitive on officers. It comes at a time when they are just getting into their stride of policing as a career. It is also, usually, a critical time for young officers in their personal lives when they are facing the financial pressures of housing and young families. The decision to freeze police pay may be a signal that policing cannot escape the overall public sector pay reduction. But freezing increments of officers only just into their careers is - simply - indefensible.
Since it applies particularly to the police service it is a vindictive strike against the very people that the Government must rely on to protect the public and to preserve law and order. Little wonder then that police officers feel undervalued.
What I don't understand is why, out of the entire PUBLIC sector, the Government chooses to select the police service as the one body to be denied their annual contracted pay increment.
Last night we had our Bravery Awards ceremony. We heard several examples of how our officers willingly put themselves in harm's way in order to protect the public.
Two of the awards were for actions by the BTP during the August riots. I am proud to say that the BTP has a history of not flinching in the face of violent threat from rioters and August was no exception. Regardless of the debate whether there were failings at command or political levels in dealing with the riots there is no dispute that officers deployed on the ground showed tremendous initiative and courage in dispersing crowds and arresting rioters.
We also face uncertainty through proposals which will see the demise of the National Police Improvement Agency and the introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners.
I am making no political point but I suspect this has not been thought through operationally in relation to the BTP.
We currently have unfettered access to centralised resources such as the Police National Computer. Should responsibility for maintenance of records such as previous convictions and the DNA database be entrusted to private hands we may well find ourselves with substantial fees for access.
We have other concerns about bureaucratic obstacles. Despite the best efforts of BTP senior management there has been an embarrassing failure to ensure that the provision for our officers carrying firearms was properly made.
We now find ourselves in the extremely undesirable situation of officers having to accommodate the Force by applying for personal firearms certificates. This is simply evidence of a lack of official foresight or, put more bluntly, of joined-up thinking.
We had the same problem in the 1990s when the redefinition of our jurisdiction had to be tacked on to an otherwise irrelevant piece of Parliamentary legislation. The operational - legal - requirements of the BTP cannot go on being a messy afterthought.
The fact that the BTP is a national police force means that Government must not take a piecemeal approach to ensuring that legislation supporting changes to how we work is both timely and thought through.
TRAIN OPERATING COMPANIES
For the British Transport Police the irony is not lost on us that we are a commercially funded service. We derive our revenue not from Government but from Network Rail and the Train Operating Companies.
It remains a matter of entrenched principle to the Federation that we should be funded by the Department of Transport. It should be the civil servants of the Department not senior police management chasing up police service agreements.
The commercial rail companies have benefited significantly from above inflation ticket price rises and increased passenger numbers. We believe that there is an argument for keeping British Transport police numbers up and for properly rewarding our members.
Passenger numbers are directly dependent upon their confidence that railway travel is safe and crime free. If the Train Operating Companies want to protect their profits they should ensure that there are adequate BTP officers to protect their passengers.
In terms of protecting passengers and the success of the Olympic Games the problem of scrap-metal theft and in particular the theft of signalling and power cables is now a real threat.
The disruption to the travelling public is, of course, an intolerable nuisance.
However, in a few months time if we have not managed to severely curb the activities of these thieves we may have a serious threat to the enjoyment of the Games. We can expect 120 trains an hour carrying thousands of eager passengers to and from the Games. It will only take some vital cabling to be stolen or damaged and there will be chaos.
The Government has confirmed that it is going to address the problem by next month with legislation which will make cash purchase of scrap-metal illegal and will see the introduction of proof of identity in transactions.
Far tougher penalties are required. Heavy fines are not enough if the commodity prices continue to rise almost as compensation for the level of fines. We should be looking again at existing legislation such as the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act and the Malicious Damage Act.
Those thoughtless people who steal cabling should also be charged with endangering safety and should, when convicted, be given stiff - prison - sentences. This is not the ordinary theft of other people's property.
It is the committing of a reckless act which could have potentially - fatal - consequences for innocent members of the public.
BUSY YEAR FOR BTP
This will be a busy year for the Police Service and the British Transport Police in particular. It is of course a year of public celebration, perhaps all the more welcome given the overwhelming gloom of the nation's finances. The demands upon policing will be huge.
In addition to the celebrations around the Queen's Diamond Jubilee in June, we have the multi venue, multi event 'Summer of Celebration' which runs from May to September and culminates with the Olympic and Paralympic Games. This will be a summer of massive crowds.
And with such crowds comes the very real threat of terrorist - atrocity. While others will be looking at the sport and pageantry we will be looking at, and looking after, the crowds. On certain days the Olympic Park will have up to 150,000 spectators.
Despite what is happening to the police service through an unfair and unrelenting onslaught on pay and conditions we will continue to do our job to the highest standards and with the greatest commitment.
It is not just a cliché that when people are running away from trouble it is the police who are running towards it. It is the truth; it is our reality.
We are no ordinary branch of the public service. It is our resilience, commitment, professionalism and courage which protects the public and allows all the other public services to function.
I know how much policing has already changed for my colleagues in my 26 years service.
We have always been open to reform, provided that the reform enhances the service to the public and provided that the very special and different circumstances of a police officer's job continue to be recognised.
Economists tell me that trade cycles are just that. What has gone down will eventually rise again and that sooner rather than later the economy will return to prosperity.
When that happens, we need to ensure that the police service doesn't find itself as it was in the late 70s. Then officers left in their droves for better pay and less onerous working constraints on their personal lives. It took our generation of officers to transform policing into a modern police service, fit for purpose. In the end it will be the public that suffers the consequences of an under-resourced and demoralised police service.
We will be taking a clear message to Government: that is, do not let the recommendations of Winsor drive the best men and women we can recruit away from the police service.