Chairman of the British Transport Police Federation
Nigel posts regular blog comments of issues of importance to policing and the BTPF in particular.
Colleagues, here is the Federation blog for May 2021. I wish to start by talking to you about the Police Treatment Centres (PTC) and encouraging as many police officers, PCSOs and Specials to consider joining the charity as possible. This is not a hard sales pitch nor an attempt to get you all to spend more money on police charities. It is an attempt to highlight the importance of being a member.
I have personally used the PTC once in 30 years' service when I was seriously ill, 12 years ago. I have paid in for 30 years, got two weeks at St Andrews, the PTC in Harrogate, and I am forever grateful. The PTC's main focus then was on physical injuries; officers receiving expert physio treatment and building back to a level of fitness that would enable them to return to work. This was complemented by some wellbeing elements. After two weeks of rebuilding my fitness, my cardio ability, but more importantly my confidence, I started to understand why I wasn't sleeping, why I was having panic attacks, why I was anxious and sometimes scared.
I walked away knowing two things: firstly, that I shouldn't be scared to ask for help; secondly, no matter what I had paid over the years to be a member of this great charity, I could never repay the true value of the help, support and advice I received from the nurses, staff and trainers, all of which assisted me in getting back to some form of normality, but also back to work and for that reason I am forever grateful.
This was one reason I was very pleased to become a trustee of the Charity last year and I hope I can give something back for what they all did for me many years ago. Due to COVID I had been unable to attend the Treatment Centre - like most organisations, it quickly adopted virtual methods of working. Thankfully, I was able to visit in person this month and was accompanied by BTP's Deputy Director of Safety, Health and Wellbeing, Megan Taylor and Senior Occupational Health Advisor, Judith Allan.
During our visit we were shown the new facilities where the PTC will focus on wellbeing, mental health and counselling support. We also saw the excellent facilities including the gym, swimming pool, hydrotherapy pool, physio rooms, and complementary therapy rooms. It was great to be back, and it was even more impressive than during my visit in 2009.
We were also given an opportunity to look at the St Georges Police Children Trust, a separate charity which supports families, children, spouses and partners of those who have lost loved ones whilst serving in the police. The charity also supports officers who are dismissed/retired through ill health. Here is the link to this charity, how it helps, and the donation requested.
During our visit we heard how few BTP officers, Specials and PCSOs are members of either charity. BTP sits low in comparison to other forces and that is not only disappointing, but very worrying. I know many will ask why you should pay for something you may never use but I think the majority of us accept that we don't know what's around the corner in this job. We never know when we might have an accident or be seriously assaulted and injured. We may need support to deal with our feelings after attending fatalities or following a bereavement, or when like me, after a major illness we simply need to reach out and get some help with our mental wellbeing.
The cost for the PTC is £7.20 every four weeks/£1.80 per week and for that you can access psychological wellbeing, counselling, nursing support, residential and remote physiotherapy, classes and workshops, complementary therapy, swimming and hydrotherapy pools, tennis courts and gardens, three healthy meals a day and overnight accommodation. That's up to two weeks of intensive and personalised treatment, care and relaxation from frontline duties, all for £1.80 per week. Please, if you are not already a member, visit the PTC website, explore the cost versus the benefits of both the PTC and the St Georges Police Children's Trust and make an informed decision. You will not regret it.
While on the subject of wellbeing, you should all now be in possession of home testing kits supplied by BTP which you should use twice weekly. There was a big drive for these kits, and they are provided for the same reasons as your Covid PPE and that is to protect others, while also protecting yourself. We have been asked whether it is mandatory to take the test, if we can encourage the Force to make it mandatory for all those attending training, and whether the Force can stop you from attending certain operations or training courses if you don't provide a negative test result. The answer to all these questions is no.
Both home testing and having the vaccination are voluntary. Nonetheless, I would like to think that the majority will join us in encouraging everyone to get vaccinated and to use the home testing kits provided. The vaccination will protect you to a degree, but it does not stop you from catching the virus and potentially spreading it to others, so the test kits will assist you and your colleagues in knowing that those attending work, those you are training with, those you are sharing vehicles, office space and working with for long hours don't have the virus. If they do, they won't be in work. If everyone plays their part in a testing regime, the workplace, the training environment and your home life should, to a degree, remain safe. So, no, it is no mandatory to test yourself, but it is very much encouraged by this Federation that everyone helps each other by staying safe. None of us wants this virus.
Whilst on the testing regime, please remember it is as important to report negative test results as it is positive results, using the unique BTP reference numbers.
Representing your views to the Chief Constable
As some of you will know, we met with the Chief Constable again this month. We discussed issues around Red Days, rest days in lieu and annual leave, the PC-PS promotion boards and the decision to allow a further 100 qualified officers to sit the promotion boards, and we talked about welfare and wellbeing and the impact of what you do daily on our jurisdiction regarding safeguarding.
While some officers understandably focused on one aspect of this meeting, I want to reassure you that there were some positives that impact on the wider membership.
Firstly, let's talk about the elephant in the room: the Chief Constable's decision regarding this year's promotion boards. Promotions are a matter for the Force, as long as they are fair and there is no bias towards an individual or a particular group of individuals. Now I genuinely don't wish to reignite the debate about the rights and wrongs of this decision, but I believe it's important that members understand the role of the Federation and what we can and cannot do.
BTP Federation is able to consult, advise, support and on certain matters, negotiate with BTP, BTP Authority and Ministers. We approach this in a professional manner, providing ideas, raising concerns and presenting evidence when we challenge decisions. It might be disheartening for some, but we don't stamp our feet or punch the table in anger, and we certainly don't have a view that those who shout the loudest are the ones who are in the right. The latter method has never worked and means those shouting from outside the negotiating table have very little impact. It is my personal opinion, and I appreciate some will disagree, that you are better placed to have an impact on decision making when you are at the negotiating table, rather than sitting outside in the cold where no one is particularly interested in what you have to say.
This decision was made by a Chief Constable who had been in the Force for two weeks; she didn't make the earlier decisions about who could and could not sit the promotion panel, nor did she set the date that prevented 100 officers from sitting the board and she wasn't the cause of previous delays with regards to exams and boards. The timing of the decision was woeful, but what was explained to us was rationalised, evidenced and for the benefit of the wider work force.
Accepting we didn't have possession of every officer's personal experiences and circumstances, what we saw was the Chief Constable addressing a perceived unfairness; 100 qualified officers unable to sit a board due to a date being set that prevented them from doing so by eight days. The Chief Constable explained that she wanted to ensure that all qualified officers were able to apply and that would result in BTP being able to select successful candidates for promotion from a pool of 200 rather than 100. The Chief Constable would now have the option of selecting the best candidates in the Force for promotion to Police Sergeant, and this would demonstrate that everyone had a fair chance at that process. So, the question I had to answer was why, as a Federation, would we not accept that.
Having accepted the Chief's rationale and the perceived unfairness we did request, on more than one occasion, that those who had sat the board should be provided with their results, allowing those officers to prepare and plan for whatever the future holds, pass or fail. Sadly, the Chief Constable did not agree with this request.
With hindsight, I accept we were not in possession of all the facts. We did not know every individual set of circumstances and sadly the decision impacted officers - who had already experienced delay after delay - in different ways. Accepting that was a failure on my behalf and not the wider Federation, I want to put on record that those who chose to criticise or apportion blame (or worse) on social media, emails or WhatsApp groups towards certain Federation reps and the Federation as an organisation can be reassured the blame, if there is blame, sits with me and no one else. I was the one who sat with the Chief, not your local reps. They, like many, pushed back on this decision and they did so in a professional manner and in possession of certain facts.
So, my request to you all is in future, if you have a concern or a gripe at the decisions that are being made and you want to air your frustrations then please pick up the phone and speak with me in person or visit me at West Dulwich and allow for the facts to be shared before you jump to conclusions or opinions. Please don't turn on those who represent you day in day out, those that stand shoulder to shoulder and then in their spare time provide you with support, advice and representation. They deserve better than what was being pushed out by those wanting to spread disaffection. I am not afraid to face my critics but let's do it face-to-face with all the facts, in a professional and respectful way, rather than issuing insults from behind a keyboard.
Moving on to other items that we discussed with the Chief and some more positive outcomes, she has agreed that rest days in lieu (RDIL) should be converted into hours rather than recorded as 8-hour days. This is now being actioned to all DMS teams and means your RDIL's can be taken in hours, allowing you to use the time you have accrued rather than pinching from your annual leave entitlement to make up missing hours needed for a full day off.
The Chief Constable also accepts that due to the commitments during the Covid pandemic and what lies ahead this summer, some officers will have a considerable amount of annual leave to carry over to 2022 in line with Government guidelines. Nonetheless, covering off that leave this year and next is going to put a massive strain on our resourcing levels to fulfill our daily commitments. Therefore, the Chief has agreed that officers will be able to carry over some of their annual leave entitlement (amount unknown at this time) into 2023. So, we are pleased to report it won't be a case of 'use it or lose it' by 2023.
The Chief Constable does still want to encourage officers to take leave when and where possible, taking account of Covid restrictions. We know many of us would like an holiday abroad - some guaranteed sun - but more importantly we all need to recharge our batteries. We all need time out from work, so if you can use leave to take some well-deserved time with family and friends, please do because come 2023 if you haven't taken all your leave, it will be back to the 'use it or lose it' rule unless you have authority for a carry-over of 5 days maximum.
Red Days are something we also invited the Chief to look at, and she has. Again, the good news is that she has decided to conduct a review of the Red Day policy and the number of Red Days in place. There is an acceptance that when there is a Red Day in London (Notting Hill carnival, for example) officers in Cardiff, Edinburgh and Newcastle should not be prevented from taking or booking annual leave or RDIL's. Again, this is a positive step in the right direction, and we hope you will see the benefits once the review is concluded.
The Chief Constable has also agreed our request to revisit the issue of BTP Scotland officers carrying Taser outside of category A stations. I am informed the Chief has spoken with all essential partners in Scotland resulting in the MOU regarding BTP officers carrying Taser in Scotland being revisited and amended to allow for carrying outside those agreed locations. Again, another move in the right direction offering better protection for our Scottish colleagues.
A final positive that came from our last meeting with the Chief is her interest in officer welfare and wellbeing. She described to us how captivated, impressed but also surprised she was at the amount of work BTP officers do with regards to safeguarding, working with vulnerable people, suicide prevention and fatality management. She was humbled by this excellent work whilst being cognisant of the impact on officer wellbeing and mental health. It was reassuring to hear the Chief explain how she wants to ensure our officers' wellbeing is treated with the upmost importance, knowing what impact these events can have on us all. We look forward to working with the Force to explore better ways of supporting the wellbeing and welfare of our frontline. Hence why our visit to the Police Treatment Centre was a positive way forward; I hope to invite the Chief to also pay a visit in the very near future.
Both the issue of Taser in Scotland and officer wellbeing were later raised by the Chief at the meeting of the Scottish Railway Policing Committee on 25 May. On the Taser front, ACC Mark Williams from Police Scotland confirmed he is working with ACC O'Callaghan and progress is being made, while there was recognition from all present as to the importance of officer welfare and wellbeing.
National Negotiating Meeting
This month we had our National Negotiating Meeting with the Force and again some positives came from it. Firstly, overnight allowance for those officers who were not paid for their overnight commitment in Windsor for the funeral of HRH Prince Phillip. Officers should now be getting that paid without further delay as it was agreed that payment was authorised by ACC O'Callaghan and there should not have been a holdup. Furthermore, it was also agreed that overnight payment will be paid for those attending G7 summit in Cornwall.
While on allowances, we also raised officers' concerns regarding Southeast Allowance and how it differs in certain areas from Home Office forces. We were informed that Southeast Allowance is being reviewed by C/Supt Martin Fry and once that review is concluded we will be updated on the results and outcome.
We raised some of the enquiries we have received regarding the removal of pay point 8 on the sergeants pay scale in September 2020. BTP has followed the Home Office guidance, which is as follows:
2. On 1 September 2020, sergeants on pay point 1 will transition to pay point 2, following the transition arrangements set out below:
(b) Sergeants who move from pay point 1 to pay point 2 on 1 September 2020 will have a new incremental date of 1 September 2020, in respect of future progression to pay points 3 and 4.
(c) New sergeants joining the rank on or after 1 September 2020 will join at pay point 2 and move up to the next pay point annually, depending on the date of joining the rank and subject to satisfactory performance, in accordance with current practice. (d) There will be no change to progression in respect of sergeants already on pay points 2, 3 or 4.
Regarding the job-related fitness test, the NPCC wrote to every force last month with an update on the JRFT, whilst inviting each force to feed back their thoughts and ideas regarding testing police officers' fitness levels. We provided our thoughts on this test, which we believe is not fit for purpose and actually discriminates against certain officers. We have suggested introducing a role specific test that is conducted during your training within your specialism or role. For example, during your Police Officer Safety training there are a number of tasks such as baton strikes, cell extraction, protecting yourself from a knife attack and so one. These test your skills but also demonstrate the level of fitness needed and what is truly required as a police officer, albeit perhaps you should be wearing your uniform rather than a tracksuit.
At the NNM we were informed that as a result of a paper that we submitted to the force in April, supporting the Female Police Association's concerns about discrimination, BTP will be writing back to the NPCC with some thoughts and ideas. We obviously wait for a further update on this matter, but we do hope there is something more role-related rather than a generic test for all regardless of age, disability and gender.
Finally, I would like to draw your attention to your travel insurance through your Group Insurance Scheme. As you know we recently circulated new guidance on travel insurance, please see the information on our website if you haven't read the circular. Since the traffic light system has been introduced, our insurance providers have seen an increase in travel insurance queries from members. Many are assuming they are covered to travel to a destination if that country is on the green/amber list despite the Foreign Commonwealth Development Office (FCDO) advising against travel to many destinations.
Whether travel is considered as being essential or not, makes no difference to the cover. It is not the case that if someone's travel is considered essential, then they would have cover under the policy as the policy excludes cover if the FCDO advises against all travel, or all but essential travel. If either of those two are the designation for a specific destination, then the policy does not provide cover.
If you are planning a holiday, it is recommended that you contact the insurance company before booking and certainly before travelling. All insurance companies are changing direction and advice constantly and we are waiting for an updated set of comms from our providers which again we will share. Until then please contact the insurers, rather than your Federation reps, and make sure you are covered before you travel; it could be very expensive if you are not.
Again, I thank you for taking time out to read this blog, I hope it is useful. As always if you have any concerns, questions or queries please don't hesitate to contact your Federation representative or the head office at West Dulwich.
Quote of the Month:
"Your talent determines what you can do. Your motivation determines how much you're willing to do. Your attitude determines how well you do it."