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 Federation blog for April 2021. I wish to start by echoing the message of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services which has recently commended police officers for their dedication and commitment to keeping people safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tony Robbins, Entrepreneur
You all deserve that recognition. You have worked extremely hard during the last 12 months (plus) and on many occasions have put yourself at risk whilst protecting others. There is no denying that all officers on the frontline have faced a tremendous amount of criticism regarding the policing of coronavirus regulations, so it is very pleasing to see that HMICFRS has publicly paid recognition to all in policing for what has been achieved. This pandemic is one of the most significant challenges faced by modern day policing and the response has finally been recognised as being beyond the call of duty. You can read more here.
Whilst paying recognition it would be remiss of me to not pay our respects following the passing of HRH The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, who was laid to rest this month at Windsor Castle. I must again thank all those officers who worked on this national day of mourning, especially those whose rest days were cancelled last minute. You all did a terrific job while paying your own respects to the Duke of Edinburgh. Rest in peace your Royal Highness.
Meeting the Chief
This month I had my first formal meeting with the newly appointed Chief Constable, Lucy D'Orsi. We caught up in Leeds while she was out and about visiting various locations. My immediate thought was how relaxed I felt in her company, talking about the pros and cons of policing in BTP. I had the undisputable feeling that our new Chief is genuinely interested in her workforce, her people; those who do a wonderful job day in day out. The topics we covered included rosters, Taser, terms and conditions, the Police Covenant and Scotland.
What has been impressive for me is how, within her first days in the Force, our Chief Constable has gone out and about listening. Not only listening to senior police officers, but listening to passengers, rail staff, police staff and police officers on the front line. She has visited the coal face, she has worn her uniform with pride, hasn't hidden behind her rank and has obtained first-hand accounts from those who are experiencing the true reality of BTP.
Obviously, the current restrictions prevent certain journeys and visits, nevertheless I am convinced as restrictions lift we will see much more of our Chief. If you get an opportunity to chat, be open and honest, be proud of what you do, but also highlight any concerns. I know Ma'am D'Orsi will listen, and she will look to make changes; changes that are meaningful and that will be explained. It won't be change for change's sake and we certainly welcome that kind of approach.
Terms and conditions
We have received some very good news regarding your terms and conditions. Having sought further legal advice the Force now agrees with the Federation's stance and legal advice regarding your terms and conditions. We are now working closely with the Force to finalise a compendium of terms and conditions that not only inform you of what is expected, but also what you are entitled to. Once this is signed off and agreed it will bring a stop to the ever-changing rules and conditions of service we have all experienced over the years. It will also stop the various interpretations of what you can/can't do and what you are/aren't entitled to.
Although it's taken nearly four years to get to this point and we are very pleased the Force has finally accepted our legal - and moral - stance on this matter. It's important we now focus on the detail and get the compendium completed for the benefit of everyone. There will be one document that identifies your T&C's and sitting behind this reference document will be the agreed negotiated contractual conditions of service which will provide the detail. No more ever-changing policies, no more outdated decisions and no more senior personal changing the goal posts simply because of costs.
Once the new conditions of service are signed by the Chief and the BTP Authority no changes can be made to those conditions without the consideration and authority of both parties and agreement is reached through the correct process of the Machinery of Negotiation as per the Railway and Transport Safety Act 2003. We will keep you updated on proceedings as they are progressed.
In other good news we have met with our colleagues in the Civil Nuclear Police Federation and Defence Police Federation to talk about the Police Covenant, which we have reported on previously. We have also now met with members of PFEW who are supportive of all in policing being covered by a police covenant and it being enshrined in law. Furthermore, I have received a very positive letter from the Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris MP. He has recorded his appreciation for the fantastic work of BTP officers and staff who have dedicated their efforts to policing the Covid pandemic and many other events in-between.
Mr Heaton-Harris MP also updated us on the status of the Police Covenant. He explained: "the Police Covenant itself will take the form of a declaration and will not be set out in legislation. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which has now been introduced into Parliament, references the covenant, but specifically in relation to reporting arrangements - a duty on the Home Secretary to prepare and lay before Parliament an annual Police Covenant Report."
Based on this, it's our understanding that the requirement to have a covenant and report on it annually will be enshrined in law, while the contents and mechanics of the covenant itself will take the form of a declaration. This slightly changes the conditions, and I am pleased to see that the Department for Transport is now working with the Home Office and other government departments to ascertain how all non-Home Office forces will be provided with a Police Covenant and how that legislative protection will sit with BTP, CNC and MDP.
It's very pleasing that during a global pandemic our Ministers are listening to our concerns and taking time from their busy schedules to firstly respond to our letter and also provide some detail and understanding of the Police Covenant.
Annual leave and rest days
Moving on to more local and in-Force matters, you may recollect that last month we encouraged you to start taking your annual leave and Rest Days in Lieu (RDIL). We did this for two reasons: firstly, you all need a well-deserved break from what has been a full on 12 months; secondly, this summer is going to continue in the same vein with commitments to the G7 Summit, the Euros 2021, COP26 United Nations Climate Change Conference, and many other events, carnivals, and potential protests. This will prevent many of you taking leave when you want it (if you haven't already booked it). Furthermore, annual leave is backing up with RDILs causing BTP a financial liability which is becoming unaffordable.
As a result, we received quite a lot of helpful feedback. You told us that annual leave and RDILs are being prevented due to various blockers and bureaucracy. We have explored this feedback and shared some of our thoughts with the Force.
Firstly, planned RED DAYS - where annual leave and RDIL are blocked - have been increasing. This creates a situation whereby there are many weeks in which you are unable to take time off. We have invited the force to re-visit the RED DAY policy and the frequency with which they are used, to determine if they can be reduced, allowing you more flexibility to take leave.
We have also asked for consideration to be given to breaking RDIL down into hours rather than (8-hour) days. The latter means you having to steal from your annual leave entitlement or TOIL to make up the hours required to take a full day off when you are working a variable shift pattern. The immediate response was a positive one and the Director of People and Culture was tasked to examine this request.
Finally, we have also requested that consideration is given to officers being entitled to carry 20 days annual leave into 2023, adding an additional year to the Governments 2-year plan. Again, it was welcomed as a proposal.
All of the above is now being explored by the Force, DMS, event planners and others. Hopefully more good news will follow, and common sense will prevail. We will keep you updated.
Meeting with BTP Authority
We had our bi-monthly meeting with BTPA this month and covered various items from the Police Covenant to the compendium, pensions, pay parity and compulsory retirement age versus pension age for police officers, which is unique to policing. We also spoke about our proposal for an independent review that the Federation may commit to, depending on the outcome of the delegates votes at Conference in September (see below).
What you should also see this month is the full roll out of asymptomatic coronavirus home testing called Home Collect. Access to this testing approach will be available for everyone in BTP, and I can only encourage you all to participate in its roll-out. The tests should become routine for many (twice weekly), especially those working on the frontline and a key element will be disciplined adherence to completing and reporting all tests. All participants are reminded that Home Collect test kits are for home use only.
To record the test result you will be supplied with a unique BTP reference number and all data submitted by you is anonymised. You will get clear guidance on what to do in the unlikely case of a positive asymptomatic test. This will hopefully prevent anyone coming into work and spreading the virus amongst colleagues where they do not have symptoms and it will also help you to protect your family and friends.
As reminder if you are symptomatic you should follow the separate NHS guidance for testing and self-isolation along with your household.
Many of you are still waiting for your first COVID vaccination and we remain genuinely astounded by this. We have voiced our concerns on this matter on numerous occasions in a range of forums, sadly to no avail. Nevertheless, it is remains worrying that many of you have not yet received a vaccination, especially those working on the frontline. We have again raised our concerns with the Force that officers continue to see others in the blue light brigade receiving spare vaccinations at the end of a working day while BTP sits and waits for notifications.
You continue to put yourself at risk, getting close and personal with those out and about breaching Covid regulations and being disorderly in large groups. To our mind it is totally unethical that police officers are still waiting for vaccinations. We have a very young workforce. Not all are in their 40s and 50s; many are in their 20s and working on the frontline facing the risk of Covid, no matter what the "R" rate is. This is unacceptable. I hope BTP will become more pro-active in securing vaccinations for you.
Social media use
While we're sharing our thoughts and views, it's a pertinent time to remind you of the importance of understanding what you can and cannot share on social media. There have been several cases in policing of officers being disciplined and losing their occupations due to the sharing of inappropriate material on social media, especially on WhatsApp. It has been proven on so many occasions that as police officers, it is not acceptable to turn a blind eye to inappropriate language, behaviour, or material via social media.
If you receive material which you know or suspect is inappropriate you can firstly delete it, remove yourself from the group, and challenge and/or report it. If it is criminal, then you have no choice but to report it. You cannot and should not share any material which you know to be inappropriate, and you certainly should not be the author of such material. The consequences of this breaches the standards of professional behaviour and flies in the face of the Code of Ethics that all police officers should follow and abide by. Please be smart, be professional and be savvy to the pitfalls of social media.
On more local Federation matters, as we get ready to mark 100 years of BTP Federation, we believe the time is right to review and reflect on its processes, practices, and policy, to further modernise and bring about certain progressive rules and conditions. There will be interesting debates regarding the number of representatives, full time staff, roles and responsibilities and the current rules that govern the running of the Federation. This is a decision for the 40-plus delegates who represent you, and one that needs an element of independence to demonstrate a high level of accountability.
We will therefore have a discussion at conference about the aims and objectives, future-proofing and review periods and cost. My personal view is that we can never tread water, being content with what we've got. We must ensure we remain cost-effective and accountable to the members that we represent, but above all else, that we can deliver a top-class service, supporting those who need it most.
Whilst on accountability, the Federation accounts have been shared with the Management Board. They have agreed and accepted the accounts and the annual report of the independent accountants so the next step in the process is for these to be signed by the Trustees. They will then be uploaded to the 'Publications' area of our website.
As we all know, the last 12 months have been like nothing any of us has ever experienced before, including the Federation. The pandemic has affected our activities both positively and negatively. I'm very proud of the way we quickly switched to remote working, conducting meetings via Zoom and Teams, enabling the vast majority of our work - including the representation of our members - to continue unaffected.
We are funded by members' subscriptions and each year we have to ensure we are efficient, cost-effective and we perform within our budget; in recent years this hasn't been achievable mainly due to legal cost which fluctuates year on year. The last year has been different. Restrictions on travel and face to face activity has impacted on our expenditure and this is reflected in our accounts for the year. For the first time in many, many years, the Federation has a surplus.
I am very pleased to report that the Management Board has agreed to donate £50,000 to the Federation's Welfare Fund. The welfare fund supports officers and their families when they fall on difficult times, financially or otherwise. It is a charitable fund that does not receive an income, instead relying purely on charitable donations.
In brief, each area Committee has a Welfare Officer, and they meet regularly to consider applications for support from members. Any member can apply for themselves or their colleagues if they know of an officer who needs support. The only restriction is that this fund is for welfare and wellbeing purposes; we cannot pay off existing loans or debts for members.
It is right that the surplus we have manged to save this year is going back to our members when they need it most. Once the accountants confirm our decision then that money will be available. We're updating the information about the Welfare Fund for our website but in the meantime the application form is available to download here and your local Fed Rep can help with your application.
Personal injury claims
Whilst on funds, I offer a reminder to any officer who is involved in a traffic accident that isn't their fault, that they can claim for personal injury via the Federation solicitor. BTP will not give legal assistance for officers claiming personal injury; they will only claim back damages to property belonging to BTP.
All personal injury claims can go through the Federation lawyer at no cost to the officer and all that is received in way of compensation goes straight to the officer, unlike some 'no win, no fee' lawyers on the High Street. So, if you are involved in an RTA please contact your local federation representative and complete a legal assistance document. Free legal assistance will be provided under your membership of the Federation.
Sadly, we don't have any updates from the National Negotiating Meeting as the most recent meeting was cancelled. Our next meeting is in May and on the agenda for the Federation are: Mental Health First Aid training; RDILs/AL (inviting the force to allow RDIL to be converted into hours); updates on the Police Covenant; an update on the JRFT after we/the FPA submitted a paper; potential Force support for the Federation acquiring a welfare van/trailer that can be deployed to major incidents; the Force position on the suggestion of officers administering an overdose Spray (Naloxone); reviewing the use of Red Days. Updates will follow next month.
Thank you again for reading this blog. Please if you have any concerns, queries or question don't hesitate to contact your local representative or the head office at West Dulwich.
Quote of the Month:
"Stop being afraid of what could go wrong and think of what could go right"
Tony Robbins, Entrepreneur