Chairman of the British Transport Police Federation
Nigel posts regular blog comments of issues of importance to policing and the BTPF in particular.
Colleagues, it's that time of the month again when you have the pleasure (or displeasure?!) of reading my monthly blog and receiving the updates and highlights from the Federation.
We're desperately hanging on to those last few days of summer before autumn arrives and we start donning our coats, hats and scarves. You have all had an exceptionally busy summer so on behalf of the Federation I would like to say a very big thank you for the excellent work you have been involved in across the entire country. You all should be very proud of the service that you deliver; we are certainly proud of you all.
This month's blog is quite lengthy but there is a lot to report on, including some positive news.
Meeting with the Chief Constable
I have attended numerous meetings in recent weeks, including with the Chief Constable. We discussed various topics and obviously retention and recruitment was up there at the top. The Chief knows and acknowledges that officers are leaving BTP to join Home Office Forces. We are all aware forces are now recruiting heavily and any hurdles that previously prevented BTP officers from transferring into Home Office forces have, in the main, vanished. We discussed how BTP is reacting to this risk of reduced numbers and the ways in which they can encourage officers to remain. The Chief described how the Force is looking at pay and conditions i.e. starting salary, travel facilities and developmental opportunities (where officers have 6-monthly career conversations with their line managers, as is happening on B Division, we understand). We also spoke about how PCSO's, on the recommendation of their line manager, can join as uniform PCs without doing the recruitment assessment and that there will now be an additional three student intakes going to Spring House training school.
I can hear many of you say, "too little too late", and to be honest, in some circumstances I agree. Career opportunities and variety/prospects in the role of PC/PS are limited and the sense of feeling undervalued and unsupported are the main reasons I hear officers giving when asked why they are leaving BTP.
Obviously, this isn't good news and it's not unique to BTP. Nonetheless I intend to write to the Force describing the concerns of our officers and sharing what we are being told are the main reasons for officers leaving BTP. We will ask the Force for a position statement on those concerns, whether analysis is being done on officers' exit interviews, the reasons officers are providing and what the Force is doing to address concerns.
I would also like to offer a word of caution and hope you will accept this in the manner it is intended. If you are planning on or considering leaving BTP and you are currently in the Career average pension scheme (commonly known as the CARE scheme) you cannot currently transfer any of your BTP pension into the Home Office Pension scheme. Presently there is no bilateral agreement that allows for the transfer of a Career Average Pension Scheme from BTP to a Home Office force and vice versa. This could have financial implications for some, especially if you have already paid over 4 years contributions to the BTP CARE Scheme. Clearly over time this may change, and a bilateral agreement may be obtained, nevertheless I would invite you all to seek independent pension advice when considering transferring.
I'm not going to offer the glib line that 'the grass isn't always greener on the other side of the fence' because we all make choices based on what's right for us and our loved ones. I just urge you to do your research before making a decision.
Also at the meeting the Chief Constable provided an update on the newly formed Railway Policing Committee in Scotland. The committee comprises three BTPA members and two SPA members. They will meet quarterly and the meetings will be in public. All agendas and minutes will be published for viewing on both BTPA and SPA website. This committee will look at planning and performance of BTP Scotland, interoperability with Police Scotland and stakeholder engagement. The first meeting will take place on 22 October 2019 and we hope that this committee will demonstrate that the principles of devolution can be met without whole scale changes. Our General Secretary will attend this first meeting.
Finally, the Chief Constable updated me on the issuing of Taser
As some of you may be aware some Chief Constables have stated that they intend to issue every single officer with Taser, something our Chief is very supportive of. However, what is not being explained is the difficulty in doing this. I have also received a detailed update from ACC O'Callaghan who sits on the NPCC working group.
This piece of police equipment requires the authorisation of the Home Secretary. The decision to issue Conductive Energy Devices (CED) "Taser" within a Police Force rests with each individual Chief Constable. The decision to issue CED's must be based on the needs identified in the Strategic Threat and Risk Assessments (STRA) within the force; the STRA effectively lists the risks and then lists mitigations. For BTP this includes the STRA for Counter Terrorism and Armed Policing. CED's are not authorised for use in public order and therefore the Public Order STRA is not relevant as some might suspect.
The authorisation currently in place from the Home Secretary is for substantive police officers and early in the year has now been extended to include student officers. The criteria for issue to student officers has been set as:
- No student officer should be compelled to apply for CED training
- Officer to fulfil certain criteria prior to application:
- Independent Patrol
- Capacity to undertake additional training
- Officer to then evidence 3 instances of conflict management utilising NDM prior to applying for TASER
- Application then proceeds as that for officers confirmed in rank.
Unfortunately, in BTP we already have officers handing Taser back as they do not want the responsibility. As disappointing this might sound officers cannot be forced to carry Taser and some don't want to carry it. Furthermore, there is a requirement to pass the required course and an eyesight test. Nonetheless the current position is that BTP can justify their position of 'if you want one' based on the increase in violence overall on the railway and the number of officers being assaulted. However, it's important to remind you that this won't reduce assaults on those occasions where officers are in close quarters such as in custody, sometimes on board trains or on the ground cuffing up etc. To achieve this ambitious aim the current piece of work conducted by BTP aims to establish exactly where our TASER devices are currently, by team/shift, to scope what the investment would be to provide enough devices across the entire Force. Each device costs just over £1000 and each cartridge costs £28. This doesn't include also the cost of storage where certain locations may struggle to provide the correct standard of storage.
We welcome the fact that ACC O'Callaghan will be presenting to the next Force Executive Board a proposal for the wider issue of Taser across the Force, which includes cost of devices and training etc. I am informed that we the Federation will be kept fully in the loop. This work on Taser is also coupled with the ongoing work of the Use of Force and Officer Assault Board again led by ACC O'Callaghan. Part of this work is about looking at ways of reducing assaults on officers, the Police Officer Assault pledge and how the Force can better support an officer assaulted on duty. Again, these are very positive steps being driven by our COG team in recognition that our brave officers face the threat of violence and assaults daily and I for one am encouraged that the work is being led by ACC O'Callaghan. Annual leave restrictions
Whilst talking of ACC O'Callaghan, you may be aware that he recently posted on the intranet a notice restricting any further annual leave being authorised between 30 October and 08 November 2019. I appreciate this is during a school half term, but I would hope that those officers who require leave would have pre-booked it prior to this announcement.
The Federation was consulted on this decision prior to its publication and given the Brexit situation and the political climate there is obviously concern regarding the potential for civil unrest and BTP can expect to lose officers on mutual aid for up to a week or more. BTP has no plans to cancel any annual leave already booked and if there are exceptional circumstances where officers require leave not yet booked then it could be authorised through heads of departments with the final approval coming from the ACC. As of last, Monday 16 September, 15 Home Office Forces nationally have taken the same step.
Moving on and this month we attended our National Negotiating (NNM) Meeting chaired by DCC Hanstock and Rachael Etebar. We discussed the pay rise that you will receive this month and confirmed that the on-call allowance has increased from £15 to £20.
On the subject of money, the General Secretary, Darren Townsend, has submitted a paper inviting the Force to increase officers' meal allowance from the current indicative amount of £7.50. We don't believe this sum allows officers to purchase a healthy hot meal whilst committed on Police Duties. The Force has agreed to re-visit the amount you are currently entitled to and hopefully we will receive an update very soon.
On a very positive note, whilst discussing expenses we were updated on the way the Force wishes to progress on how officers claim for their expenses. Currently you have to seek authority for any expenses claimed through a line manager, which is not only time consuming but also sometimes bureaucratic. The Force is seeking to introduce a new system which will allow officers to make claims without seeking authority from line managers. Hopefully this will speed up the process, build trust within the workforce and cut out some of the bureaucracy currently in place. There will be a 90-day window of opportunity to claim your expenses stopping officers who collate their annual expenses and submit them once a year.
A word of warning if you currently have any outstanding expenses to claim, please claim them now before the new system arrives as you may experience problems with claiming historic sums.
During NNM we received updates on officers affected by Allard and Ors. This is where officers in certain covert roles should have been paid for hours worked outside of normal working hours. So far 35 claims have been settled and there are a further 22 to be resolved.
We were also updated on the lack of a bilateral agreement for those officers on a Career Average Pension Scheme. This affects officers transferring in or out of BTP; currently 68 BTP officers who have transferred in are impacted by this. Letters were sent out to all seeking clarity on their pensions and their understanding of the situation. There are still 6 officers who have not yet responded. We raised concerns about the time limit of 5 years and how this will affect many who will reach a point of having to make a decision about their future. The DCC has asked that the Force identify immediately which officers are most at risk of the 5 year deadline and these officers are to be spoken with to determine how best to progress with this particular issue.
I have updated the Federation lawyer on the current situation and informed her that we may have to be seeking to instigate legal action if and when our officers suffer a lost due to the lack of information given to these transferees' when joining BTP.
Federation Management Board
Also this month, we held one of our three annual Management Board meetings. This is where two representatives from each Federation committee from across the country come together and discuss local issues alongside national matters.
To explain how our structure and process works, generally your local Federation committees will raise your concerns, complaints and problems with your Sub-Divisional Commanders. If there can be no resolution or agreement then the committees join forces and take the matter to the Divisional Commanders meeting, which should run quartley. If again there is no resolution the two committee members attending the Management Board meeting will bring the problem to the attention of the National Executive and we, the National Officers, will take the issue to the Chief Officer Group through a process called the Machinery of Negotiation. If we are still not satisfied, then we go to Police Conference where we sit in front of the BTP Authority who has the final say.
At this particular meeting the largest topic of disquiet was retention and recruitment of officers, closely followed by career development and opportunities. Being 'London centric' was a concern, the inference being that we as a Force have centralised too much and this causes delays rather than improving effectiveness and has introduced a further level of bureaucracy that causes disgruntlement and dissatisfaction.
Each area committee gave an update on what is happening on their area in terms of the representation to provided to officers in discipline matters, but also the ill health process and UPP. We also discussed various welfare and health and safety concerns around certain premises and equipment i.e. body armour and other uniform items. All complaints of this nature are being collated by Stuart Cowan our newly appointed Health and Safety lead and the Federation rep that will take the lead on all things uniform.
We also discussed our plans for next year's Federation annual conference and our annual Awards of Excellence. We have circulated nomination forms for you, our members, to nominate your colleagues for the brilliant work they do. If you know of any officers/teams that deserve an Award of Excellence for a job well done, then please do not hesitate to submit your nomination form ASAP. The closing date is 18 October so please get those nominations into the BTP Federation at email address email@example.com. On 29 October a panel of Federation Representatives from across the Force will select the winners who will receive an award at the event in March 2020.
Mental wellbeing in the emergency services
This month I attended a conference in London on improving mental wellbeing across the emergency services. There is a growing understanding of what officers face at work and how best we can support colleagues to deal with some of the challenges that they face daily. The conference was opened by Holly Lynch MP, who led on the Protect the Protectors campaign. This campaign saw the increase in sentence guidelines for assaults against emergency workers. Holly's father was a police officer so she fully understands the impact of policing on officers' wellbeing and the effect on our families.
John Sutherland, a former Commander from the Metropolitan Police, spoke after Holly. Every time I hear John talk the audience sits in silence, admiration and total respect as he shares his experiences of the pressures we all face daily, especially in policing. John talks openly about wear and tear, faces and places, the day job, bad management and his life story. He then explains what he feels we must all do to tackle the stigma of mental health and that sometimes that can best be achieved by simply resting when we can, talking about our feelings and emotions and following doctors' orders. As some of you know I can relate to what John talks about and we must all do our bit to help our colleagues and ourselves.
John Apter, Chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) spoke about the Demand, Capacity and Welfare Survey of 2018 which PFEW conducted with all 43 Home Office forces. The survey highlighted some very important concerns regarding the pressures of policing, the unrealistic timescales, the lack of breaks and rest for officers, single crewing and officers suffering with stress, low moods and anxiety. It is a telling survey, which reflects the feelings and opinions of over 18,000 participating police officers across the country. I am sure there are many of our officers in BTP who can relate to similar concerns.
We also had an input from Gary Hayes from the non-profit organisation PTSD999 who bravely shared his experiences of being an ex-soldier, then a police officer in BTP and suffering with mental health issues. Gary is now assisting others who are dealing with mental health and offering support and advice through PTSD999. Gary and I had an opportunity to chat through what the organisation is all about and how they function, and it is our intention to meet again to see how we can work more closely together.
I've got to say I was slightly disappointed that there was no representative from BTP present when other non-Federation personnel attended from many other forces. That said, this day was very informative, very moving at times and I certainly learned a lot about what we can propose to the Force to help them with their plans to improve mental wellbeing and trauma support.
New CEO at BTPA
We also met again with Mr Hugh Ind, the new CEO of BTPA. Obviously taking into consideration what I have said above we had some interesting discussions around retention and recruitment, the pension bilateral agreement, assaults against BTP officers and the issuing of Taser.
I felt Mr Ind listened very carefully to what we have to say regarding the views and thoughts of our members. He is very inquisitive and also sometimes challenging. You can't simply go into his office to raise a concern or a complaint without being armed with firstly the evidence and/or secondly a proposal, suggestion or at best a solution to that issue. Obviously, this is challenging because as a Federation we don't have all the answers, but we are grateful to the new CEO for giving us the opportunity to share your views, our views and our ideas.
Quote of the Month:
"We rise by lifting others" Robert Ingersoll Nigel Goodband