Chairman's Blog for March

Colleagues, here is the Federation blog for March 2022. I wish to start this blog by firstly saying that our thoughts go out to colleagues affected by the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. We know those of you with family or friends in the area will be extremely worried. Even colleagues with no connection to Ukraine will be concerned by the scenes on TV.

Our Reps are here to support you, whether you want to talk through your situation in confidence or need more practical guidance. Please reach out to your local Rep if we can be of assistance. At times of crisis, it can help to focus on what we can all do, even if it's small. Watching rolling news or scrolling through social media can be unhelpful, particularly as there is a lot of unreliable information being shared online. We suggest you limit your viewing and focus on updates from official channels. If you would like to offer practical support to the people of Ukraine, organisations like the British Red Cross and UNICEF are on the ground or you can support the #Help Ukraine Emergency Appeal.

Federation elections
I would like to thank everyone who participated in the national Federation elections which were held this month. Thank you to all those who stood for election and, where it was required, those of you who voted. In some areas, reps stood unopposed, hence why not all members were invited to vote. The only committees that needed to vote were those that had more nominations than vacancies. For all who have been successful in their elections, congratulations and welcome to the Federation. We have met some of you in our initial training sessions and will be seeing more of you in due course. For those who stood and weren't successful, thank you for putting yourselves forward. I hope you will get a chance to stand again and become a BTP Federation representative in the future.

You may wonder why I have opened this month's blog with this news. The reason being is that some of those who have been successful are now entering the unknown, not knowing what is expected, what training they will receive and what powers they have. Being a Federation rep isn't about suddenly changing the world of policing, it's not about 'getting off' those accused of wrongdoing or about going into battle with anyone and everyone in management. First and foremost, Federation reps are full time police officers, working in the same pressured environment as our members. On top of the responsibilities of being a frontline officer, our reps have the additional responsibilities of supporting and advising their peers through police regulations, rosters, terms and conditions, consulting and negotiating with various command teams, attempting to influence certain decisions whilst supporting others, representing and advising officers through misconduct and performance matters and supporting colleagues when they need it most. This is not an easy task when you already have a full-time job, high expectations and very little time to meet those expectations. So, I say to all those who have now been elected on behalf of all our members, a very big thank you. Your time and your efforts will be greatly appreciated by many.

Federation review survey
Our newest reps will be part of the team that sets the path for the future of the organisation. The review survey has now closed, and I would like to thank all who participated and answered the questions posed. I am informed that 37% of our members completed the survey which is a really good return and higher than is usual for such surveys.

The independent panel will now analyse the responses and a summary of the main issues raised and options for addressing them will be published in the final report. The panel continues to interview and speaking with various officers. They will also be visiting West Dulwich to interview the Executive Officers and staff. This review has now been running for three months and it's expected we will get first sight of a report and recommendations sometime late May early June.

Federation Awards of Excellence
Another thank you from me, this time to those of you to have responded to the Federation Awards of Excellence call for nominations and who have put some great officers with fantastic stories forward. It never ceases to amaze me when we see these nominations come through how widespread the dedication and commitment to duty is.

This month a group of our reps met to deliberate over the nominees for this year's Federation Awards of Excellence. It's never easy to narrow down the nominations to a small group of winners, especially as the quality of nominees is always so high. The winners of our Awards of Excellence are deserving of recognition in their own right, but they also represent the brilliant work that goes on across the Force day after day, which isn't often seen by a wider audience. For those that have now been nominated and selected to receive an award, I can congratulate you all and for those that have been named as a winner thank you also for your continued efforts and hard work, you are all a credit to policing and BTP. We will look forward to sharing the stories at our conference in September.

Whilst on the topic of awards, I had the privilege this month of attending the Female Police Association Awards evening in London which was held on International Women's Day. I have to say it was inspiring listening to some of the nomination stories from both officers and staff, truly exhibiting the "One BTP" ethos. For those in attendance it clearly shows that policing in BTP isn't solely about police officers on the ground on response teams, in public order teams or criminal investigations departments. There is much more behind the scenes that many of us don't witness or don't know about. So, a big thank you to Lucy Milton, Alison Evans, Melissa Cunningham and many more for all the hard work to bring about the enjoyable awards evening and also for my invitation to witness firsthand some of the excellent stories.

Financial advice and support
Continuing with work behind the scenes, I would like to draw your attention to various support functions that BTP has in place for colleagues experiencing financial concerns, worries or hardship. We all know how difficult and unaffordable life is becoming with increased fuel prices, minimal pay increases and household bills rocketing. In light of the current climate and the increased cost of living, BTP has organised a number of live webinars with Police Mutual, Met Friendly, and The Money and Pension Service. These will cover a range of topics including effective cash management, understanding the increases to your everyday costs, and family finances. You can access the webinars via the Wellbeing Hub events page Wellbeing Events and Webinars.

The Wellbeing Hub also has lots of information on financial wellbeing along with signposting for debt problems. Please don't suffer in silence, if you are truly struggling please seek the support on offer, speak to someone, don't allow yourself to get into an uncontrollable debt which could become a matter for PSD. Being in debt is not a discipline offence but it can seriously become one if you are not managing your debts correctly and leaving yourself vulnerable.

Please also remember BTP Federation has a Welfare Fund, which helps officers who are facing adversity or experiencing financial difficulties. Officers can apply for a grant (that does not have to be paid back) or an interest-free loan. There's more information here.

This month we have also had a meeting with BTP to seek their support to explore ways of assisting officers and staff during this period of financial hardship. Signposting to reliable sources of support is helpful but we are inviting the Force to look at something more tangible.

The government has proposed a minimal 2% increase in salary this year, which doesn't go anywhere near covering the increased cost of living. Some will suggest we should argue for a bigger and better pay rise and in an ideal world that would be great, but realistically that isn't going to happen. Over the past ten years this government has demonstrated that public servants, like police officers and other emergency workers are not valued, they are not paid fairly and will always be the poor relations. Now I know that a debate on pay could last for weeks and months, but in the meantime, we have asked the Force what further support, other than pay, can be provided especially to those on low incomes.

I am pleased to report that BTP is already looking at what can be offered, support that will have a real impact. One such proposal is the increase in meal allowance, an allowance that hasn't increased in many years. We know the boot allowance should be one saving that hopefully will help, but the Force is looking at anything in way of allowances that may assist; anything that is a realistic affordable increase that can just provide a little bit of assistance for those struggling. There are no promises, no guarantees but it is reassuring the Force is willing to look and explore what more can be done.

Force reviews
This month the Federation has attended a number of meetings and one which has prompted queries from members is the layers and spans review and the decision to suspend future promotion boards until August 2022.

The messaging that has been shared suggests that BTP held their last board in August 2021 for Sergeants, with 69 officers posted on promotion. Similarly, the last board for Inspectors took place in February 2021 and posted 26 officers. BTP currently has ten Sergeant vacancies and seven Inspector vacancies, with a small handful of other vacancies. BTP also has two individuals awaiting an Inspector posting and 13 awaiting a Sergeant posting from last year's boards. Now I am not sure where the Force get their data from but we're being told what is being reported doesn't quite reflect reality.

We are told that feedback from the most recent people survey raised concerns about perceptions of fairness and transparency in the promotion process. In response to this BTP has engaged an independent consultant to conduct a review and report to COG in April. In tandem with this review BTP is also undertaking the review of layers and spans of control in the organisation, benchmarking the Force against other forces and nationwide blue light organisations. The benchmarking and recommendations will report to the Portfolio Change and Investment Board (PCIB) by August 2022. Given these two reviews, BTP has decided to pause promotion boards until August 2022, when they will evaluate the review outcomes.

We are told between now and August 2022, BTP will still take a pragmatic decision on a case by case basis on whether a promotion board should run, particularly where carrying a vacancy creates an operational risk or HGD is not a suitable cover option. We are aware that in some locations certain vacancies are being covered by HGD and the impact of that is a domino effect which results in fewer officers on the frontline, which in turn places a bigger demand on those patrolling our jurisdiction.

Attendance at the College of Policing exams will continue as normal and officers should still be encouraged to take the exams as planned, but clearly this decision will still cause some apprehension amongst those seeking promotion and those intending to sit the promotion exams. I want to reassure you that the Federation is being consulted about the layers and spans review and we will update you as we receive information. Nevertheless, if you have any concerns or queries that you would like us to raise please don't hesitate to contact us or your local Federation reps.

Staff survey
We are told that the Force will be running another staff survey in May/June of this year. The survey will be the first of its type due to the Force purchasing its own survey tool. I appreciate that some have reported that they still haven't had sight of the full results of the last survey and nor did we get told how the results of the last survey matched the first survey conducted by Durham University. We totally understand that some were disappointed with the way the Force dealt with the survey results. Many have reminded us that those so called hinderance stressors that showed employees felt there is unnecessary red tape preventing them from completing their role to the best of their ability still exist and that there was a lot of talk about improving organisational support and wellbeing which again officers are suggesting isn't improving.

We also know that a lot of officers are reporting experiencing change fatigue and they are weary about completing more staff surveys, especially those that appear to result in no action. However, I would encourage you all to be patient, to participate in this new people survey in May/June and together we will encourage the Force to act upon your feedback, to showcase the positives, but also to address your concerns. Let's also not forget that the last survey results exhibited that our people are working harder than ever to serve the public, they are moral, trustworthy, and engaged.

Returning to my comment about change, I know I hold a very privileged position within BTP in that I perhaps see more than many and while you may not see certain changes for yourselves, I can assure you there have been some positives changes recently and I know there are many others in the pipeline, especially with regards to Occupational Health and Wellbeing. Certain changes don't happen overnight, especially when there are financial implications, nevertheless, to enable the Force to make relevant changes - changes that may benefit you - they have to know what those changes look like, what they should prioritise and what they can afford. The only way of knowing this is if you complete the survey and provide the feedback required, so please where possible engage with this year's survey, share your views and thoughts (positive or not) and let's all play our part for future change.

National Negotiating Meeting
This month we also had our quarterly National Negotiating Meeting where we were updated on the new boot allowance, where you no longer have to pay out for a pair of boots and claim back £50. Boots will be provided, and we are told they are of a high standard, costing in the region of £100-£150. Hopefully this is one less expense for you to worry about. We were also updated on the new policy of five days leave for baby loss, miscarriage leave and the further increase in paternity leave which is now three weeks full pay. These are just some of the changes that not everyone will be aware of, but which are really positive for all in BTP.

We have asked that the overnight allowance policy is reviewed and revisited. We believe the policy is ambiguous and is open to various interpretations in its current form. We have also asked that the Working Time Agreement also reviewed and that potential changes are considered.

The Federation Health and Safety Lead Stuart Cowan has submitted a paper to NNM inviting BTP to consider creating its own retirement package for officers and staff who leave BTP after many years of service. The paper was certainly welcomed and taken away with a view that this proposal should be considered.

In summary the request is that BTP, supported by the Federation, support associations, retired officers' association, pensions management and other stakeholders, have a unique package for police staff and officers approaching retirement. The support that we are proposing is financial/pension management, CV writing (something many officers and staff haven't done for years), membership of treatment centres, retired officer services, insurances, will writing, signposting to recruitment agencies and much more. We hope to receive some feedback next month on this proposal, but a big thank you for Stuart who drafted the paper for submission.

We have invited the Force to again visit the South-East Allowance to bring about parity with the Home Office forces whilst also considering BTP geography and police posts where some are receiving different amounts in allowances despite policing the same Force area. There was a review by B Division sometime in 2020/21 but we are not aware of the outcome this so have again asked for an update and invited the Force to consider addressing the concerns of those who receive this allowance.

We were also updated on the 2021 pay report that evidences the Force has further reduced the gender pay gap in BTP, albeit there is still some work to do especially regarding Police Staff pay. However, part of that update suggested there was a gender pay gap between police officers. While I struggle to relate to this we are told that this is, in part, being created by officers claiming payments for unpleasant duties; the evidence suggests more male officers are claiming the benefit rather than female. This is being spoken about by some and again creating an element of disharmony which to be frank is disappointing.

As the national Chair of the Federation, I want to understand why this is happening; why some officers are claiming the allowance and others aren't. We appreciate that as a Force we have lower numbers of female officers in comparison to the ratio of male officers and that itself might be one element to consider. Nevertheless, I would like to know whether all officers attending fatalities know they can claim a payment for unpleasant duties. If officers are aware of the payment is there a problem with the claim process? What does that process look like? Is authority needed to claim such and is that influencing the data? We are concerned that there is a gender pay gap so, if you have any experiences that you would like to share with your Federation, particularly in respect of the questions I have posed above, please email us or speak with your local reps and provide us with some evidence of why this is happening and hopefully, we can explore ways of closing this gap.

Again, as always thank you for reading this month's blog, if you have any questions or concerns, please don't hesitate to contact us or your local federation reps.

Quote of the Month:
"Stop being afraid of what can go wrong, and start being excited about what could go right"