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 blog for August 2019; sadly a month in which we have had to offer our condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of another police officer. It's the news none of us in the police family ever wishes to hear but tragically on Thursday 15 August 2019 PC Andrew Harper from Thames Valley Police was killed whilst protecting and serving his community.
Clearly this is an ongoing investigation and I am restricted in sharing any views and thoughts on the murder of yet another police officer. Nevertheless, PC Harper's death has fueled the debate around single-crewed patrol and the arming of all police officers with Taser or firearms. I want to reassure our members that both these topics are constantly being discussed within BTP and our Chief Constable is a big supporter of providing Taser to all BTP officers, including probationers/student officers.
We know there are issues around logistics and storage of Taser across the force, as well as when and where officers in BTP Scotland can carry Taser, however the force are exploring ways to address these issues and hopefully Taser will soon be a piece of PPE issued to all officers, no matter where you are based.
It is reassuring to note that the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) have finally acknowledged the rise in violent crime, in particular violent crime against police officers. They intend to hold a summit next month (September) during which all chief constables will discuss ways of addressing this crisis.
We all know from recent figures that an officer is attacked every 20 minutes in the UK and BTP tops that list. It has been suggested that we might see a knee jerk reaction to recent incidents against police officers. I would suggest anyone who believes that is disengaged from the frontline and its realities.
As a Federation we will continue to campaign for better protection for all frontline officers; none of us ever wants to receive or deliver the news of a fallen colleague. We have urged the Force to revisit the Police Officer Assault Pledge introduced in 2017. It is important that, regardless of the degree of assault against an officer, everyone is supported in accordance with the pledge. If that is not the case then officers must report this to the Federation so we can ask why.
I have heard reports of officers receiving head injuries and being told to catch the next train to a hospital, which is wholly unacceptable. This type of response cannot be defended and understandably leaves officers feeling devalued and unsupported by their managers. If you are unfamiliar with the Police Officer Assault Pledge, take a look at this summary. Stick it up in your station, keep a copy to hand in the office, but above all please support each other out there, no matter your rank.
Moving on to some more positive news, if you haven't already heard, BTP Authority has approved police officer pay for 2019 as follows: 2.5% consolidated increase for all ranks from 1 September 2019 and 2.5% increase to London weighting and dog handler allowance. This increase will be reflected in next month's pay (September).
For the first time the Government accepted the recommendations of the Police Remuneration Review Body (PRRB); this is the independent body which advises the Government on what police officers should be paid. Although the decision and the increase are welcomed by this Federation, we are still of the opinion that there is a long way to go to rectify the failings of the Government who for the last nine years have failed to follow due process.
Retaining and recruiting officers
Retention and recruitment are major concerns for police forces across the UK and especially in BTP. This is without doubt due to derisory pay and conditions. Poor pay, cancelled rest days/annual leave, working long unsociable hours, the threat of being seriously assaulted, being placed under investigation for making mistakes and dismissal through ill health or misconduct are all factors which contribute to problems with retention and recruitment. You can only take advantage of the goodwill and dedication of officers for so long before officers leave the service disgruntled and/or burn out.
BTP are obviously very concerned regarding retention, especially whilst the likes of the Metropolitan Police Service poach and recruit fully and part-trained police officers in a bid to strengthen their rank and file.
In the interests of balance, I must report on the steps BTP is taking to address recruitment and retention. One approach is to invite PCSOs to become police officers on the recommendations of their line managers. If a PCSO is identified and recommended by their line manager to become a uniform officer then they will be placed straight into training without the usual recruitment assessment. There are several positives to this proposal but we are concerned that line managers will be applying a subjective test.
We feel that line managers should have criteria to follow when assessing the capabilities of a PCSO; without this the process could be open to criticism for being unfair i.e. an 'if your face fits' scenario. Furthermore, when PCSO's become police officers what will prevent them from moving to another force during their probation period, just as current officers are doing? Finally, we are concerned about pay. Where will these officers start on the pay scale, bearing in mind some will take a pay cut from being a time served PCSO to being a newly recruited PC? Hopefully these concerns will be addressed and we can continue to support the idea.
The Force is also speaking with the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) regarding free travel in to work especially for officers working in London. These discussions are in their infancy and there is little to report currently, nevertheless this is an idea that is welcomed and supported by BTP Federation.
Finally, rumours are rife that the force might be exploring better shift patterns especially those on response 24/7. Obviously, we have some hesitations; when I hear the term rosters I become somewhat cynical because of previous experiences especially with regards to the failed DRD review. I would plead with the Force not to replicate that type of review. If rosters are genuinely being looked at then we must ensure we have people who understand them involved in the planning process. In addition, there must be a meaningful consultation process around any proposed new rosters.
Now, I hear many of you saying that there are reasons other than pay and conditions for officers leaving BTP. Some would point the finger at the leadership, others would state they don't feel valued and supported. We all know retention is a major concern, but it has to be reassuring that the Force have finally acknowledged they have major problems and that they are looking at ways to address them.
Welfare and wellbeing
In October the Force will again run a staff survey with Durham University, following-on from the survey of 2017. This will provide evidence and information on the views and opinions of the workforce since the last survey results were published in 2018. I really do encourage you all to participate in the survey, ensure you complete it in full and provide your honest views and opinions. If we want to see change, we need to engage with the Force to encourage change. Please do not miss the opportunity to influence the future by taking part.
Something we know is a concern for many officers is welfare and wellbeing support. I have attended a number of meetings on how the Force needs to improve support, understanding and policy. This is not an easy task at a time when BTP is facing more efficiency savings and are cutting back on support functions. However, the Director of People and Culture, Rachael Etebar, is seeking funding from the Force/BTPA to support the commissioning of an independent expert to inspect and view our welfare/wellbeing programs with the intention of receiving recommendations on how we can improve the service delivery. Again this is a very positive step in the right direction and supported by the Federation.
You will also be aware that the Force is changing its Occupation Health Provider from PAM to Optima Health. Optima Health is a leading OH supplier across all sectors of the UK, including train operating companies and police forces such as Police Scotland, Metropolitan Police Service and Merseyside Police. Optima will provide services including: immunisations where a work-related risk of infection has been identified; health surveillance, for example hearing tests and vision screening; the body fluid exposure management programme; physiotherapy services and an OH physician referral service for more complex cases where specialist advice is required. They will also undertake some of the routine medicals conducted by AFO's and other specialist roles.
We have been told that one of the reasons for this change is the intention to improve on the service provided. Only time will tell but I hope this change will go a long way to improving the welfare and trauma support needed by our officers. Please again, if you have any particularly good or bad experiences please do not hesitate to inform your local Federation representatives.
What other changes are on the horizon? You may remember last month I reported on the new proposal of a single control room. The latest update is that the results of the survey are in so thank you to all those who participated. At first look the results make for interesting reading and they are now being analysed and assessed in detail. The main points raised are the need to improve on the current systems and service delivery and the lack of support for a single control room.
As this work progresses there will be some workshops around the country seeking further views and ideas. The locations of the workshops are as follows:
- Axis House, Birmingham
- D/Division Scotland
- FCRL, Palestra
- B/Division, London
- C/Division, Birmingham
Please check the Intranet for further details about these events.
I have also attended a meeting to discuss duty and event planning for 2021. This project is to develop high-level options to modernise and improve efficiency across the duty and event planning functions, taking into account of any feedback and suggestions. The options being considered are:
- Do nothing - maintain status quo
- Centralised management and oversight but retain out-based event planning posts
- Fully centralise both functions
To help to refine these options over the coming weeks the Force Resource Manager, Liz McWhirter, will talk with and visit teams and managers to gather further information and ensure there is a detailed understanding of current ways of working, risks, and best practice. Proposals will then be presented to ACC Robin Smith (Territorial Policing) and ACC Sean O'Callaghan (Specialist Operations) and their leadership teams for discussion and review.
Again, we have provided our views and opinions on this particular proposal and hopefully those thoughts will be considered. You may have heard that both the single control room and the centralising of duty and event planning is the BTP's strategic intent. However this does not mean the decision has already been made. The Force is simply in the planning stage; BTP is required to find efficiencies of £30 million by 2021 and these proposals may assist in that task.
Rest day cancellations
We have received complaints over the summer holidays that rest day cancellations are creeping back in and that some officers' annual leave is being declined, especially officers on night tube. It was suggested the Federation were not addressing this issue. To be able to address concerns and complaints we must firstly know about them and I was certainly unaware of the situation currently facing TFL night tube officers. Since I have been informed, Ch/Supt Fry has met with B Division Federation reps to discuss these concerns.
The situation on TFL has not been great and there has been an acceptance that resources are low due to retention, recruitment, TDR, sickness and promotions. All have impacted on the number of officers available to cover the night tube roster and in turn officers have suffered the consequences. We are reassured that Mr Fry is addressing these concerns and that improvements should been seen in the very near future. As stated previously if you are experiencing any issues with regards to leave/rest days and rosters please inform your local Federation reps so they can assist in resolving your concern or providing the relevant advice. If we don't know we can't act.
This brings me onto this month's Bank Holiday weekend. A lot of you will have worked on various events across the entire Force area; this particular weekend is one of the busiest for BTP and surprisingly, it was a very hot one. Knowing what the weekend brings and how much planning goes into such, it really does sadden me to hear that certain officers in London who were policing the Notting Hill Carnival did not receive any operational feeding or regular breaks to allow refreshments to be taken on board. Officers were told that on their way home after a 12-hour shift they could purchase a meal and the cost of that meal will be refunded. Why? Why over a 12 hour period were officers not fed or watered? Is it any wonder officers are feeling unsupported, under-valued and disgruntled when the basics are not delivered?
I am sure something, somewhere went badly wrong and no one can change what happened, but you have to ask; where is the plan B? What alternatives should have been in place? Who in charge takes the initiative to resolve the problem? Clearly there was no plan B and yet again the frontline officer suffers the consequences of poor planning, poor management and little appreciation of the impact of such?
Finally, we are aware that around 30 officers, including BTP officers, were assaulted at Notting Hill Carnival. This isn't acceptable and we wish them all a speedy recovery.
Thank you again for reading this month's blog, I hope it is informative and if you have any questions or concerns please do not hesitate to contact your local representatives.
Quote of the Month:
"Hard times don't create heroes. It is during the hard times when the 'hero' within us is revealed." Bob Riley Nigel Goodband