Inforamtion from our Annual Federation Conference.
4th March 2015
SPEECH FOR GEORGE LEWIS, CHAIRMAN BTPF
Minister, Fraternal Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, and colleagues, welcome to this year's annual British Transport Police Federation Conference.
It has been an eventful year to say the least. BTP Officers have once again been called on to perform their duties in very demanding circumstances. I am delighted to report that as usual our officers have done an outstanding job.
Despite our professionalism and achievements last year, there is one major issue which greatly concerns me and many of our members.
I refer of course to the very real possibility that the BTP in Scotland will, at least in part, come under the control of The Scottish Government and Scottish Police Authority.
This is an issue which we as a Federation see as a threat to the very existence and identity of the British Transport Police and something which stands in stark contrast to the hard work and dedication of this Federation and its members to improve and enhance the national service we provide.
In my speech last year, I expressed our concern regarding the threat of Police Scotland subsuming BTP officers, and the negative consequences this would bring if BTP officers had their roles changed to include policing Scotland's streets, to the detriment of Scotland's rail network.
My fears were borne out by recommendation 67 of the Smith Commission Report, which states;
'The functions of the British Transport Police in Scotland will be a devolved matter'
This recommendation, following a submission from the Scottish Government, came as a body blow to many of our officers, who like me; fail to see the benefits of such a move.
As a Federation it has always been our position that the BTP in Scotland should remain part of the BTP nationwide, providing a seamless, unified Force policing the railway network throughout Great Britain. Our position on this matter will not change.
Until such times as any act devolving the functions of the BTP in Scotland to the Scottish Government has passed through the Consideration of Amendments stage in both houses we will continue to lobby Parliamentarians and raise awareness around the finer details and potential consequences of this proposal.
Not only do we owe it to our members, but we also owe it to members of rail staff and passengers in Scotland who will, without doubt, see the quality of service they receive reduced if these proposals are enacted into law.
Following the publication of the Smith Commission Report late last year, we had a series of meetings with all the main political parties, both in the Scottish Parliament and Westminster. We also had meetings with members of the rail unions, ASLEF, RMT, and TSSA who have also voice their concerns for their members in a post devolution Scotland.
Overwhelmingly, the feedback we got was that of concern at the proposed devolution of BTP officers to Police Scotland, with the obvious exception of the SNP representatives.
On 22 January 2015, the UK Government published a Command Paper containing draft clauses which aim to take forward the Heads of Agreement contained in the Smith Commission Report.
In a document entitled 'Scotland in the United Kingdom: An enduring settlement', the issue of devolving the functions of the British Transport Police in Scotland to the Scottish Government or the Scottish Police Authority were addressed.
Clause 30, of the paper, relates to paragraph 67 of the Smith Commission Agreement and the functions of the British Transport Police in Scotland, and says;
"At present, the BTP is responsible under the Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003 for railway policing throughout Great Britain, with oversight provided by the British Transport Police Authority. This clause will devolve legislative competence in relation to railway policing in Scotland."
The paper continues.
"This change will allow the Scottish Parliament to legislate in relation to the policing of railways in Scotland. Further consideration will need to be given to the manner in which executive competence will be transferred and to related organisational and operational aspects of the policing of the railways in Scotland."
This document proposes that the BTP in Scotland comes under the governance of the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Police Authority.
However, the command paper stopped short of detailing the role of current BTP officers in Scotland following the devolution of our functions.
A working group set up by the BTP looked at options available to the Scottish Government post devolution.
The BTP are obviously right to look at, and have contingency plans in place for, all eventualities going forward. Devolution of our officers in Scotland will have a massive effect on the Force nationally and may see renewed interest from the Metropolitan Police Service or even the Welsh assembly.
The three options they proposed would all involve a change of identity for the BTP in Scotland. Under option 1 they would be called 'Police Scotland' and under options 2 and 3 they would be known as 'Transport Police Scotland'.
Option 1; would entail breaking up the BTP and subsuming it into Police Scotland.
This option would have significant implications for the workforce, both in terms of employment and pension arrangements, as well as the financial and legal liabilities which transfers might generate.
This option would reduce police on the railway network and undoubtedly lead to a dilution of the service we provide to the public.
Option 2, consists of a number of legislative and administrative, measures designed to devolve transport policing within Scotland.
It embodies in statute the arrangements by which the Scottish Government may give direction to the BTPA and ultimately specify the direction of railways policing in Scotland.
Essentially, the model provides that the Chief Constable of BTP will engage with the Scottish institutions in much the same way as the chief Constable of Police Scotland does at the moment.
Responsibility for pensions, employment contracts and defraying the costs of policing to the rail industry would remain with the BTPA but the Scottish Police Authority would have a greater involvement at strategic and planning level.
Option 3, would achieve devolution through administrative means, rather than legislative means. It would maintain the responsibility on the BTPA to pass on the cost of the Force to the rail industry, as well as responsibility over employment matters and pensions.
This model looks at practical ways to increase the BTP's accountability to Scottish institutions and how to achieve greater alignment with Police Scotland on initiatives to keep the Scottish public safe.
It also considers what role the Scottish Police Authority could play in new, joined-up arrangements for scrutiny and performance monitoring.
If clause 30 of the command paper were to be enacted into legislation, this would give the Scottish Government a fully trained, professional railway policing department, with BTP officers who have the knowledge and experience associated with such a unique environment.
A positive railway policing ethos only comes with many years of policing the rail network and the people who work and travel on it.
The business case for retaining a specialist railway policing department, even, dare I say it, if it were to be applied on a national level, has been made by a number of reviews into the British Transport Police.
Review after review has cautioned against the break-up of the BTP, claiming that such a prospect would affect resilience and lead to an inevitable dilution of the service to the public. Every previous attempt to subsume or merge the BTP into other forces has resulted in a firm rebuff from the BTP, Parliament, Train Operating Companies, Unions and passengers groups.
Both the Government and independent bodies have comprehensively reviewed the BTP five times since 2001 - more than any other police force in the country. All reviews have been unanimous in their conclusions: The BTP is efficient and effective and provides a policing service that should be kept as a specialist and separate force for the whole of the British railway network.
These reviews have concluded that our integrity and national coverage is to the benefit of all stakeholders, and that our specialist skills and knowledge provide the public with the most effective service.
Minister, in my conference speech last year I spoke about the Scottish Government's desire to incorporate the British Transport Police into Police Scotland.
We, as a federation and as a force were encouraged when, in your keynote speech, you said;
"As you know there will be a referendum taking place in Scotland later this year, and the possible break-up of the BTP is one of the important and far reaching implications for the welfare of our citizens. We believe Scotland benefits from national networks that are unconstrained by international borders."
"A single unified country preserves key national institutions that we all too easily take for granted. Institutions like the British Transport Police and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, who have served the people of our whole country well for many years."
"Put simply, we are better together."
Minister, I genuinely believe that to be the case. If our worst fears are realised, and The Scottish Government does take over the functions of the BTP in Scotland, it will have to heed the contents of these reviews and ensure a smooth transition which will not adversely affect the former BTP Officers, the travelling public or members of rail staff. Realistically the only way for it to achieve this is to retain a unified rail policing capability within Police Scotland.
Minister, I again take this opportunity to appeal to you to help us to continue our success, rather than become victims of it.
Discussions and lobbying around 'Smith' aside, we have continued to represent our members' best interests in negotiations on pensions.
Following protracted negotiations with the BTP, the BTPA, RPMI and trustees from the railway pension scheme, we have secured a pension scheme for our members which is comparable with any public or police pension scheme, and more favourable than many.
Minister, last year I expressed our disappointment with the on-going issue with firearms certificates. I am happy to announce that the outstanding issues have now been addressed and our officers now receive the same legal protection as their Home Office colleagues.
I would like to place on record, mine and my members' thanks to you and your department for having this contentious issue expedited through Parliament. Your assistance and support has greatly assisted our firearms officers and cut out excessive bureaucracy and unnecessary costs.
Your intervention could not have been timelier; it comes at a time when the terrorist threat level has risen dramatically, and where police officers were identified as deliberate targets by Islamic State, and associated terror groups.
It also comes at a time when the number of officers in our Firearms unit has greatly increased, and their role is changing to include Armed Response Vehicles following extremist activity in Paris and Copenhagen, and planned attacks which were disrupted by police officers in Belgium.
I would also like to thank you for the assistance you and Lord Faulkner of Worcester have given the BTP to ensure that some legislative and jurisdictional anomalies are cleared up.
The Infrastructure Act 2015 which will come into force next month will mean that BTP officers, operating out-with their jurisdiction, in the absence of our Home Office colleagues, can now make an arrest in 'urgent' circumstance to prevent or minimise criminal damage. This is in addition to the existing power to act to save life or prevent or minimise personal injury.
Further to this, there is no longer a legal obligation for a BTP officer to be in uniform or in possession of documentary evidence that they are a BTP officer when exercising these powers in 'urgent' circumstances.
The act also now allows The Chief Constable of the BTP to make a requirement under section 172 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 for the registered owner of a vehicle to provide driver details where the driver of that vehicle is suspected of committing an offence.
Minister, once again, thank you for your support and assistance in these matters. These amendments will make a difficult job a little easier.
Last year our members had unprecedented access to the Chief Constable Mr Crowther as part of his 'Make the Difference' Road shows. The Chief Constable conducted 32 road shows which were attended by 95% of the staff in the Force.
The road shows outlined the Chief Constables vision for the future of the BTP and discussed how the Force will adapt as an organisation and adopt new ways of working as part of the Transformation Programme.
Central to everything we do as a Force is the 20-20-10 objectives which aim to reduce disruption by 20% reduce crime by 20% and increase passenger confidence by 10% by 2019, whilst still delivering value for money. These objectives will be difficult to achieve, but our members are 'up for the challenge'.
Our members really engaged with the road shows and asked the Chief and his team literally hundreds of questions.
Following the road shows Mr Crowther set out his ten commitments. They include;
- Trialling hand held devices to stream CCTV to provide officers with immediate access to images of suspects.
- Issuing supervising officers with hand held tablets to remotely access systems and data so they are no longer tied to the office.
- Launching a pilot scheme issuing 250 body worn cameras to help gather evidence.
And one of the most welcomed and eagerly anticipated commitments;
- The Force will upgrade the current Duty Management System (DMS) to ensure that all changes to rosters are properly scheduled and last minute changes to duty are kept to an absolute minimum.
This Federation welcomes the Chief Constables commitments and thanks him for his engagement, but we would like to see additional commitments around issues which we see as a priority.
Issues such as;
- The provision of Taser to all officers who volunteer to carry one and who pass all suitability tests and Taser training. Also,
- The British Transport Police are unique in that we are the only police force which interacts with the other 43 police forces in England and Wales and Police Scotland on a daily basis. Whilst this obviously has its advantages, it also had its disadvantages.
For the benefit of our members the BTP urgently need to address issues around protocols with Home Office police forces and health care providers to ensure that both our officers and members of the public give and receive the best possible service in relation to the care, detention and transportation of people with health issues, in particular those suffering from mental health issues or suffering as a result of drug or alcohol abuse.
I am hopeful that the creation of Suicide Prevention and Mental Health units and the signing of the Mental Health Crisis Care Concordat in conjunction with the safeguarding strategy will greatly assist our officers.
We as a federation are fortunate that we have a really good working relationship with the force and we will continue to work with them on these issues to ensure that the BTP and BTP officers are the best in the country.
Following on from the road shows. It was refreshing to see that police officers and police staff are still engaged in the transformation programme. Earlier this year 64% of the employees of the Force submitted their views as part of the 'Make your Difference' survey. I look forward to seeing the results and action plans from the survey when they are published next month.
2014 was a busy year for our members. The Commonwealth games in Glasgow in July and August last year saw our officers again perform a superb job in dealing with the logistics involved.
As with the 2012 Olympics, BTP officers ensured that the huge crowds coming to watch nearly 5,000 athletes from 71 participating nations were as safe as possible on our transport network.
We were again very much the focus of world media in September 2014 when the NATO summit came to Wales; the first time it had been in the UK since 1990.
BTP PSUs, search teams and logistical operations were drafted in to provide mutual aid and assistance to Gwent Police and South Wales police.
This in itself shows how highly our officers are regarded and how our professional approach to everything we do is recognised by our Home Office police force colleagues.
Given the heightened security situation, BTP responded to mutual aid requirements and enhanced intelligence and policing necessities such that the summit went off without incident. It was a resounding success in the eyes of the world leaders gathered in Celtic Manor and Cardiff and officers can rightly be proud of their contribution.
Before we hear from the Minister, I would like to put on record my thanks and congratulations to our ex General Secretary Roger Randall, who retired in January after a long and dedicated service to BTP and the BTP Federation. We wish him all the very best for a long and healthy retirement.
In turn, I would like to welcome our new General Secretary Darren Townsend to his new role, and I look forward to working with him to deliver the best possible representation for all our members.
It is now my pleasure to invite Baroness Kramer, Minister of State for Transport, to address Conference.