Chairman of the British Transport Police Federation
Nigel posts regular blog comments of issues of importance to policing and the BTPF in particular.
Chairman's BlogColleagues, here is your monthly blog for November 2017. Yet again it has been a very busy month, moving ever closer to Christmas. I am shocked how quickly this year has nearly passed us by, as we prepare to welcome another with anticipation and apprehension.
This month's blog comes with a bit of a health warning. I write it with a heavy heart, but make no apologies for its content. There are times when you must speak out against what you think is wrong.
Last month Darren Townsend, the General Secretary, and I along with our in-house lawyer and PR advisor, attended meetings with our colleagues in Glasgow and Edinburgh to update them on the merger of BTP Scotland with Police Scotland. It was clear that the continuing uncertainty is fuelling officers' fears and many were understandably dissatisfied with the situation.
Given that the Scottish Parliament and BTP has still not told them exactly what the future will hold for them, there can be little wonder as to why those officers share such a collective sense of abandonment. They feel that BTP (south of the border) has given up on them. Again, we ask why, with just 17 months until our Scottish colleagues are assimilated into Police Scotland, do they still not know what the future holds?
These concerns need to be addressed urgently and officers should be fully supported throughout this process. We would like to see Force-run surgeries to allow officers to raise their concerns and, more importantly, receive meaningful answers and support. The fact that nothing has been done to date suggests to many that BTP does not genuinely care about them.
We're shocked by the lack of transparency, accountability and financial prudence that has been shown throughout this process. As a Federation we are grateful for the commitment of monthly visits by the CEO of BTPA, but this is simply not enough. From the start the Scottish Government has refused to acknowledge the results of the consultation process; the evidence against the merger supplied by many at the Justice Select Committee; the feelings of officers, staff and public, and a petition opposing the merger signed by over 11,000 people.
Only recently, Mary Fee MSP, invited the First Minister to suspend the merger until a full cost analysis was conducted and yet again we hear the same repetitive response: "This Merger is about accountability, offering access to specialist policing in Police Scotland and mirroring the proposed infrastructure Policing model in England and Wales as per the Conservative party election manifesto".
BTP is already accountable to all throughout Scotland, England and Wales, including the Scottish Government. We already have a single command structure throughout the country, accountable to all. Furthermore, we already have our own specialist policing and access to support from Police Scotland, if needed. Finally, there is the issue of the creation of a National Infrastructure Police Force, which appears in the Conservative manifesto (but was omitted from the Queen's speech to parliament - causing confusion for our members). The clue is in the name 'National Infrastructure'. It was never ever called the Infrastructure Police Force of England and Wales, so why is the Scottish Government continuing with the suggestion BTP Scotland would not be part of the proposal?
If we listen closely to what is being proposed by the Scottish Government and the Joint Program Board, our officers and staff are (rightly) to transfer with the same pay and conditions, the same pensions, into the same premises, using the same vehicles and operating the same number of staff. What will the final cost be, in terms of both time and money? I suspect the public purse is being stretched to pay for a simple name change and nothing more. In the Scottish Parliament, MSP's are already making comment about the serious lack of financial prudence and the cost is rising by the day.
On Tuesday 21 November we returned to York for a further meeting with the Scottish Government civil servants, Police Scotland's Head of People, Darren Skinner from BTP HR and a representative of the BTPA. Several agenda items continue to be discussed, especially around pay, terms and conditions and pensions. There is still no confirmation of the status of BTP officers on transfer; while the BTPA have said the planning assumption is that officers will transfer with the same status they have now, Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority haven't yet confirmed this is their position.
During the meeting there was recognition by Police Scotland that the operational delivery of policing is achievable, but challenges remain in respect of matters such as T&Cs. The commitment they gave was that regardless of the outcome, they need to ensure policing is sustainable. They also confirmed the concerns of officers and staff is a priority; on 30 November ACC Higgins will meet BTP officers in Perth.
Next month Police Scotland, BTP, BTP Federation and the Scottish Police Federation will meet to review BTP T&Cs line by line to ensure there is a clear understanding on both sides.
We raised the recent correspondence between Chair of the Justice Committee and the Transport Minister about the arrangements for representation, post-integration. You can read the Minister's response here - as you will see there isn't a definitive answer yet and this was confirmed at the meeting.
The Joint Chairs of the Joint Programme Board have queried why Q&A document hasn't been circulated yet, and the civil servants confirmed it is being finalised. We would like to think this document would be signed off by the JPB on Monday and circulated at the earliest opportunity.
After the T&Cs meeting in early December, we are due to have a telephone conference with the civil servants in January, followed by our regular meeting in York after the January JPB
I am honestly at a loss with the DRD or DRD Reset. I sincerely trusted we were moving in the right direction supported by the DCC and all Divisional/sub Divisional Commanders. I only reported last month that we are now well into the consultation phase of the newly proposed rosters and Divisional Commanders (or their representatives) should be finalising consultation with local Federation Representatives and colleagues. I also reported that I was being invited by the DRD team to warn officers that any changes to the rosters will potentially create more rest day cancellations.
As per the circulation from the Force on Friday, the new plan is that D Division will continue with their new rosters and supervisors across the force will have their shifts brought back in line with those they supervise. Nonetheless C and B Divisions will now not change and will remain on their current rosters.
Why oh why do the DRD stumble from one calamity to another? Divisional/sub Divisional Commanders don't seem to agree with the suggestion from the DRD team that new rosters would lead to more rest day cancellations and nor do the officers on the ground working the current roster. The true evidence can be seen on the frontline not on charts from a computer. Having initially approved it, the DRD need to explain why the amended roster would potentially create more rest day cancellations especially when it would not provide officers with any more rest days than the current DRD roster?
From what we can see it's nearly three years since we were informed that the 500+ rosters were one of the main causes of rest day cancellations being so high. However, that only became apparent after the Force restructure in 2014. After two years of planning, we received the new draconian 24/7 DRD rosters, which delivered a roster pattern of mainly lates, nights and weekend working. This type of roster was originally guaranteed to meet the demand on BTP whilst reducing the number of rest day cancellations. What actually happened is that cancellations and last minutes changes continued in their thousands whilst officers became increasingly fatigued.
We were then informed that rest day cancellations continue in high numbers because of absentees/vacancies from the front line, so BTP began recruiting again. The recruitment freeze went under the radar when blame was being apportioned but it's clear it had an impact on rosters and retention. We now witness new recruits landing at police stations but rest day cancellations continue (albeit at a lesser rate), roster changes continue, and officers are still reporting that they are heavily fatigued. Is it any wonder officers have no trust it what is being said?
In light of this I ask those on the DRD and/or planning departments at what point the Force will realise their mistakes and that the answer to the problem is not to constantly cancel officers rest days to meet the ever-increasing demand?
Surely the time has come to review demand. In March 2014, each of the old seven force areas managed their commitments with a fraction of the roster changes and rest day cancellations seen since the new force structure was introduced. Why is this case? What has happened since the restructure that has placed so many demands on BTP?
I have been asked to acknowledge that there were difficult decisions that had to be made by our senior command team and I accept that is very true. But, perhaps the most difficult decision that needed to be made was avoided i.e. moving away from the mistrusted DRD rosters. Moving the goalposts repeatedly without apparent justification is wholly unacceptable and we know who suffers constantly; the frontline.
The Force must accept that the current DRD 24/7 roster is not fit for purpose and there is ample evidence to demonstrate this. I respectfully request the Force continues with amendments to the DRD rosters which were planned for January 2018. To make a U-turn now, having acknowledged only two months ago that amendments were needed, is irresponsible. The DRD team may suggest those new numbers don't add up, but I question their understanding of what is happening on the ground. Yet again we find ourselves in a position where systems are dictating decisions rather than frontline police leaders.
If the demand on BTP is now so much greater than it was pre-2014 then there are two simple options.
- We need more resources to meet the demand; or
- We re-evaluate which of the additional demands are met. This is something most Home Office forces have been grappling with for some time.
It's not realistic to continually overstretch existing resources to meet every demand. As my late granddad used to say: "Of course we would choose ham, egg and chips if we could afford the ham, but for now we will have to make do with egg and chips".
The new staff survey and welfare surveys have been published and if BTP is serious about welfare and wellbeing then it must reconsider its refusal to allow the amended DRD roster which can provide officers with better work/life balance while still meeting the demand of policing.
This brings me nicely on to the staff survey. The announcement of the survey on the BTP Intranet made it clear that it was intended to allow officers to have their say so the force could determine if they are getting it right. The truth is, no one was given that opportunity.
If the Force sincerely wanted to hear what officers think, it would have given them the opportunity using 'free text' boxes, rather than leading questions. It seems the leading questions were mainly aimed at targeting first and second line supervisors/managers on the ground. Those same supervisors are the ones who work on the frontline, managing all the concerns, expectations and needs of our officers in what can only be best described as very challenging circumstances.
Rather than concerns about individual supervisors, officers want to provide an honest, respectful view on policing in BTP. They want to know that senior officers, especially the Chief Constable, are listening to the views of those on the frontline delivering policing, and that they have a leader who is interested in them and their welfare rather than just processes and productivity.
Having completed Part A of the survey we are now invited to complete Part B, the welfare element. Again, there are leading questions with no free text. Nearly half the questions relate to integrity and ethics, which are important for all of us, but I will be interested to see how the force deals with the answers that arise.
Welfare and wellbeing is one of the fundamental aspects of the Federation role but we were not invited to participate in designing this survey. Why not? We have welfare and wellbeing at our core and the Force must acknowledge that we are an asset; we may be critical friends but we are not the enemy.
I know there will be some who will state that this blog is overly critical or that I'm too outspoken, but I genuinely feel that if I don't say it no one else will. I have said previously no one can point to the lies because what I report monthly is the truth, facts supported by evidence and the evidence is plain for everyone to see. This survey is poorly designed and does not address the needs of officers. Instead I can see it being a tool used to beat middle management over the head.
National Negotiating Meeting
We have been informed that we are to receive the 1% pay rise back paid to September, however we are told BTPA is still considering the 1% non-consolidated payment. What is there to consider? We have pay parity with our Home Office colleagues so the situation is simple: The Home Secretary has made the decision and we must follow suit. BTPA will state that the 1% non-consolidated payment is within the Force budget so what is causing the delay?
It is a further example of poor decision-making with no consideration for the impact on the workforce. Where is the fairness, accountability and openness?
For months, if not years, we in the Federation have requested the Force produces a document which accurately sets out our T&Cs/Regulations. Some say we should abide by Police Regulations 2003; some suggest we don't, that we have our own rules of employment and some just wish to pick and mix when it suits. Finally, we have received our 'rules of employment' according to BTP and we have sent it straight to our Barrister for legal advice.
For too long this Force has dipped in and out of Police Regulations when it suits them. A recent example is overnight allowance. Having discussed this topic through the Machinery of Negotiation and having taken the matter to the BTPA, we still find ourselves - some 3 years on - witnessing the Force refusing to pay officers what they are entitled to under Police Regulations.
Any officer failing to adhere to Regulations faces an investigation of sorts depending on the severity of the breach. The Force however can dip in and out without challenge or repercussions. Enough is enough. I am truthfully disheartened at the number of officers from all ranks stating that they have never experienced times like this and that things have never been so bad. I feel it is right that this Federation mounts a serious legal challenge against what this Force is attempting to do.
Our challenge will be professional and respectful, but we must stand against any further changes that will be to the detriment of this Force and our members. Our intention is to encourage this Force to have a proper record of Police Regulations that BTP officers should adhere to. This is not me or the Federation climbing on our soap box; it is us professionally standing against shocking practices and policies that see our officers suffering at the outcomes of poor decisions made with little or no accountability.
But the responsibility for this doesn't solely sit with BTP. There is accountability at the door of BTPA and a time like this they must acknowledge and address the concerns of our officers. They are, after all, the Employer.
On a positive note we have received some great nominations for our awards of excellence in March 2018. I would like to thank everyone who put their peers and colleagues forward for an award. It was the first time we opened nominations to everyone and what we received were fantastic examples how BTP officers continually deliver an exceptional service to the travelling public, no matter what.
Looking forward, we have meetings planned with politicians in Scotland and Westminster to discuss the integration of BTP into Police Scotland and hopefully these meetings will provide more information for our officers. Next month we have an NNM meeting with the Deputy Chief Constable, Pension Management meeting with RPMI, a meeting with our lawyer and Barrister regarding T&Cs/Regulations and we intend to visit Aberdeen and Inverness to meet with officers in the north.
As always, I would like to end by saying a very big thank you to you all for your continued hard work, self-motivation and professionalism, keeping everyone safe on the railway especially as we now enter the very busy Christmas period. Please stay safe and keep up the excellent work.
Finally, we hear that T/ACC Alun Thomas QPM has decided to depart BTP. I personally would like to thank Mr Thomas for his years served in policing and in BTP. His experience, professionalism and openness were very much welcomed by many. I am sure many of you will join me in saying he will be missed and we all in the BTP Federation wish him and his family all the very best in the future.
Quote of the month:
When a child is learning to walk and falls down 50 times they never think to themselves "this isn't for me". Keep that childish drive.