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 your monthly blog for December. This is the last blog for 2017, a year in which we have witnessed devastation, destruction and acts of terrorism beyond imagination and met them with absolute bravery and pure professionalism. With attacks on Westminster, Manchester, London Bridge, Finsbury Park and Parson's Green it has been a year that will not be forgotten by many. Naturally at Christmas our thoughts also turn to the families of officers who have made the ultimate sacrifice. As difficult as this year as been for many I can honestly say without hesitation that I have never felt prouder to be police officer and a BTP officer at that. I hope there are many of you who feel exactly the same. Quite simply, we work with heroes.
What you have experienced this year, many haven't experienced in 30 years of policing. Through it all you have remained professional, committed, motivated and loyal to your role in policing. You have proven how effective BTP is in dealing with challenging events, all stepping up to the plate when it really matters. You are at the forefront of tackling terrorism and ensuring that the public retains confidence in the infrastructure that you police and for that I would like to say a very big thank you to you all.
Last months blog was hard hitting and has been described by some as very negative. That said, many people have taken time to write to me personally to thank the Federation for being so candid and expressing the views of our membership. Our Chief Constable asked to meet with me to discuss the matters I raised and took the time to write to me personally highlighting his concerns and views. The Chief Constable and the Federation won't always see eye to eye on issues affecting the force, but we do have a common aim and with that in mind we welcome his commitment to meeting with us monthly. Furthermore, he has requested that I address some of his concerns, so during this month's blog I will attempt to do so.
We have finally seen the HMICS report which makes for interesting reading. Given the interesting points it raises, especially in respect of the impact and cost of the transfer of railway policing, it is disappointing it wasn't published sooner.
Had this report been published prior to the Railway Policing Bill being passed in June it would have helped politicians to better understand the complexities of the transfer. Nonetheless it is reassuring to note that many of the concerns that we have raised in several forums have been picked up by the inspectors: the need for officers to be better informed, the need for terms and conditions to be resolved at the earliest opportunity and the Joint Programme Board defining, beyond doubt, an agreed definition of the 'no detriment' principle.
The lack of information on fundamental matters such as the impact and cost of transferring railway policing to Police Scotland, particularly who will meet the costs, is unsettling for everyone affected. We welcome the comments of the HMICS in respect of this and like many we are keen to see detailed analysis of the benefits, disbenefits and risks associated with the transfer.
After the report was published we issued a statement imploring the Scottish Police Authority, British Transport Police Authority and the Joint Programme Board to accept the findings of the HMICS and act upon them without further delay. As we know, we are now less than 16 months away from full integration and we are yet to receive detailed information on status, pay and pensions; something which has been recognised by the HMICS. All we have received is the response that "The planning assumption is that officers will transfer as is". What guarantees or reassurance does this offer our officers? Where is the detail? This is unacceptable and must be resolved immediately.
On the pensions front, immediately after the last Pensions Management meeting for 2017 we were informed that the new pension proposals for Scotland would be delivered to RPMI and the Trustees this month for their consideration. We are hoping that the BTP Pensions Management team will also have an input however the next meeting is now not due until March 2018. Once we have sight of the proposals and we know the views of the Trustees we will endeavor to update you all.
In last month's blog I wrote about engagement within BTP. Clearly the Chief Constable takes these views very seriously and he reassures me that he and senior colleagues in Scotland and England will make every effort to ensure the Scottish Government provide detailed and accurate information at the earliest opportunity. Furthermore, he fully acknowledges that our colleagues in Scotland are dealing with a very unsettling situation. We therefore welcome his commitment to attend the next Joint Program Board meeting and to visiting our officers and staff in Scotland in the New Year to address some of their concerns. The Chief has stated that the force must respect parliamentary decisions and do everything possible to ensure a smooth and seamless transfer. He continues to be impressed by the level of focus maintained by our colleagues in Scotland sustaining the excellent level of service to the public and our stakeholders.
I agree with the Chief Constable that we must respect parliamentary decisions, nevertheless as a staff association we should always be in a position that we can challenge those decisions. We must ensure that the decisions being made do not have a detrimental impact on the officers we represent and echoing the HMICS report there are clearly concerns and risks with the integration. It is only right therefore that we should continue to highlight those risks and ensure that our members are fully informed and have their interests represented.
Yesterday (19 December) I attended a meeting of the Scottish Police Authority, where a progress report on the integration was given by Police Scotland. The SPA's risk register was discussed, highlighting six main risks (you can read and download the paper here). Two of the six were officers' terms and conditions and officers departing railway policing. The size and complexity of the task was finally recognised, and it was suggested that achieving full integration by April 2019 was unrealistic. There was a lot of discussion about project plans, cost and bringing together a combined risk register. The cost to achieve integration, at present, has been valued at £10,000 per person (i.e. officers and staff) and the question was posed as to whether the Scottish Government has approved this cost. There was a clear message that Police Scotland can deliver on the operational aspect of policing the railways, but full integration is unlikely by that date. The JPB will meet again in January and we have asked for an invitation to that meeting. I genuinely believe that Ernst and Young should now be open and transparent, as demonstrated by the SPA yesterday, and inform Ministers that if full integration is not achievable then the timeframe must be extended. But, extended to a point which allows for effective planning and engagement, and detailed negotiation.
BTP officers and staff in Scotland should be very proud of their achievements. The HMICS report has identified what's good about BTP Scotland and during their inspection they witnessed at first hand the excellent service provided. I for one would like to thank you all on behalf of the BTP Federation.
The DRD/DRD Reset continues to be as topical as ever. Post the review we know the force is intending to address some of the concerns raised. These are the alignment of Sergeants with shifts, the staggered start and finish times, and PCSO's working night duties. What is not being considered are the new roster proposals.
The Chief Constable has indicated that the analysis of the new proposals showed that they would not provide an appropriate level of cover, particularly on Saturdays, which is our highest day for demand and it's suggested there would be around 230 fewer officers and PCSOs available on a Saturday. In his view the new proposals do not meet demand. The Chief Constable reports that if the new rosters were adopted it would mean in the region of around 1,000 rest days would have to be cancelled each month resulting in disruption to work/life balance; highlighted as the main frustration by officers in the roadshow in 2014 and staff survey 2015.
The Chief also reports that the introduction of the rosters had led to a significant reduction in the number of rest days cancelled and that the current shift patterns are legitimate and sensible and are already having a positive impact in officers' work/life balance and ability to plan time off with more certainty.
This is at odds with the feedback we receive from officers. I accept rest day cancellations have reduced but there is still a long way to go and we regularly receive evidence of shift patterns being altered that would suggest it isn't as successful as described. Our main concern remains the 'fatigue factor'. Although the rosters may meet demand, what is the impact on performance and more importantly, what about wellbeing?
I hear a lot about demand and yes, we must provide a highly visible quality service, but (without going back over my views on meeting demand) the Federation must focus on the impact on officer's wellbeing and the reports we are receiving contradict the views of some senior officers and the DRD team.
So where is it going wrong? We are told demand is no bigger than in the last 4 years and we have more officers available for deployment. Surely more officers mean better performance? Well anyone suggesting such has no understanding of the concept that a happy workforce, a motivated workforce and a valued workforce is a successful workforce. Numbers are not the sole answer to the problem. Do I need to say any more?
To simply view statistics, performance charts and crime recording, and presume performance is down because officers are not pulling their weight is a very dangerous outlook. Officers are very busy, very tired and very committed, nonetheless the self-motivation, commitment and pride is wearing very thin. Any opinion to the contrary is totally at odds with reality.
Ever the optimist, I trust DCC Hanstock is open to continued feedback from the Federation and from officers working the current rosters and I genuinely believe he will attempt to find solutions while keeping a firm eye on performance and demand so please don't suddenly sit in silence. If there is a problem we all identify it and address it accordingly through the chain of command to ensure we all strive for the same common goal.
"Paragraph on C Division Bank Holiday working removed as this issue has been resolved"
National Negotiating Meeting
On Monday 10 December we had a further National Negotiating Meeting (NNM) with DCC Hanstock and we continue to discuss matters such as the working time agreement with the roster agreement, which is still outstanding.
The debate and discussion around the position of our third full time Federation executive role, that of Treasurer, is also ongoing. The Chief Constable no longer wishes to fund this important role within the Federation, so we have produced a business case in support of maintaining it. We have also suggested a potential compromise, in that the Treasurer would take on a dual role incorporating the Assistant General Secretary. This is a compromise that this Federation is willing to take to fulfill the importance of having a full-time Treasurer managing the accounts and day-to-day financial running of the Federation. We now wait to see if this compromise is agreed and accepted.
We continue to look at the overnight allowance. There are still outstanding claims that are being reviewed by HR to determine if there should be payment of the allowance. We still have an expectation that if you are requested to stay overnight for a particular operation then you must check the Operational Order. As agreed with the DCC, the Operational Commander will determine if the allowance is applicable, if it is then it will be written in the Op Order and you will automatically be paid without having to submit a claim.
Regarding T&Cs/Regulations we have sought legal advice and it seems as per section 36(1)(3) and 36(4) Railway and Transport Safety Act 2003 BTP Authority have not produced or written regulations to govern, administer or describe our T&Cs. The Chief Constable confirms in his letter that other provisions are contained in policies, procedures and Green minutes. He also confirms that, like us, he acknowledges that there is an absolute need for these to be in one single document.
We don't disagree with the principle of having a single document identifying our T&C's, nonetheless our stance is that this document should be produced as per the Machinery of Negotiation, allowing for staff associations to work with both BTP and BTPA to reach a point of agreement, rather than interpreted opinion. The draft "Officers Handbook" was, in our opinion, misinterpreted and very much rushed. We again have sought legal advice on the contents and we are to feed this back to the force and the authority with the intentions yet again to reach a sensible common outcome.
Clearly the Chief Constable did not accept the comments about the staff survey. He feels I have been negative and have implied that the actions of other police forces are flawed. He also points out that I failed to mention how since the last survey in 2014 that the force has substantially increased the number of forums and methods where officers and staff can ask questions and provide more detailed feedback on issues and concerns. Culture Boards, the 'Doing the Right Thing' forum and force engagement workshops have all been introduced and the Chief Constable has conducted 55 roadshows this year where you could ask questions and find out first hand how we are moving forward as a force.
He is right, I did fail to mention the increase in the number of forums available but again numbers are not simply the answer. The survey, in our opinion, does not address the concerns of OUR officers. We don't represent 30 other police forces. We are unique and so are the concerns of our officers. Of course, the Chief Constable does not have to acknowledge our views but I will repeat that welfare and wellbeing are fundamental aspects of the Federation role. They are at our core and the Force should acknowledge that we are an asset; we may be critical friends, but we are not the enemy. We make these comments so that the Force can hear what is being said by those we represent, and they either take on board these views and assess what can be done or they ignore them. Simple.
We have also this month seen the HMIC PEEL report following the inspection of BTP early in February 2017. It is a mixed report but one that we welcomed and one that highlights again the excellent work carried out by BTP officers. However, it also raises areas of concern.
The report highlights the need for the Force to improve its understanding of resources required to continue to meet demand and while work has been done since the inspection, we feel a balance has yet to be struck. As I stated earlier in this blog, we remain concerned by the impact on the welfare of officers who are working long hours, changes to shift patterns and cancelled rest days.
The length of time that has passed between inspection and publication means there have been many changes already. Some have been for the better but there are areas where there remains room for improvement. We will encourage the Force to make those improvements so that the hard work of those on the front line is not only recognised and appreciated but officers continue to feel they are supported, valued and listened to when concerns are raised.
Thank you for taking the time to read this blog; it's lengthy but there is a lot to cover. All that remains is for me to say is thank you. You work extremely hard to keep rail passengers and rail staff safe and the reduction in recorded crime over a number of years is testament to your dedication and commitment. Your role is a crucial part of policing and one, which builds trust and confidence amongst staff, and the travelling public and you should all be very proud. There are hard times in policing whenever you join, but none has hard as you have experienced over the last 12 months. On behalf of everyone in the Federation I would like to say a very big thank you for everything you have done - no matter what your role, where you are stationed or what rank you are. You have all made a difference and we the BTP Federation are proud to represent you all.
As we look forward to the New Year, I expect there will be more changes on the horizon but we are all committed to take on whatever challenges are put in our path and we will continue to support you, the members.
For those officers who are working over the festive season, I wish you all a safe return to your families and to all in BTP, once again we wish all of you (and all your families) a very merry Christmas and all the best for 2018.
Quote of the month:
"Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen."