Care must be taken when considering the recommendations of the staff association’s independent review, says Royston Martis.
“If we cannot reform ourselves, others will do it to us…”
That is the warning from Steve Williams, Chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, in the aftermath of the publication of the independent review into the Fed.
“We either reform or face abolition,” he goes on to say.
The report was damning. His words are strong. Feathers have been ruffled.
But will members of the organisation that has existed since 1919 listen? Will the Federation reform – or again in the words of Mr Williams – will it die?
Let’s have a quick look at the review itself. A total of 36 recommendations made with the intention of the fundamental reform of the Federation’s “culture, behaviours, structures and organisation”.
The aim – so says the Review team – “is to make the Police Federation once again the trusted voice of frontline officers”.
Among other ideas, the review recommends that member subscriptions should be reduced by 25 per cent in 2015 – and possibly beyond that. Officers won’t be complaining about this.
It states that a national database of the membership should be established and that all members will get a vote on the local and national chairs. Again, this will seem like a good idea to officers.
Then there is the plan for a new statement of intent that reflects a “commitment to act in the public interest”. The report says this should be written into legislation as soon as possible.
This is where you hit a grey area. And a recommendation that has angered front line officers.
Apart from the obvious answer that their members are public servants, why should a body funded by membership subscriptions act in the “public interest?”
But it is a grey area.
Most of the full time Federation representatives working up and down the country are being paid by their forces – therefore from the public purse – which makes them more accountable to the public than they would otherwise be.
This review came from “Plebgate”.
Politicians, particularly those of a Conservative shade, have made great hay out of the fact that the police officers (Fed reps) who protested outside the Conservative Party conference in those T-shirts and then went to see Andrew Mitchell at his constituency offices were there on work time – and therefore being paid for by the public.
And when up to 1,000 police officers jeer the Home Secretary at the annual Police Federation conference, they are essentially on duty – and being paid for it by taxpayers.
To the majority of police officers the Federation exists, and they pay their monthly £21.50, to protect them if they are accused of misconduct – whether it proves to be a malicious accusation or not. Legal backing is key.
They do however feel let down that changes to their pay and conditions have been pushed through by government – compulsory severance aside – and want a Federation that will fight for them when they are being attacked.
Remember they are not employees and have no industrial rights.
The Federation will reform. It will survive.
Its changes will mean it retains a seat at the top table, and can have adult conversations with policing politicians. Those that have the final sign off over things like the pay and conditions police officers rightly care about.
This is needed so reform is important and necessary.
However there is a balance to be struck – and the balance here is key.
In all its reforms and changes – and with the intention to act in the “public interest” – the Fed must remember that it is there to primarily protect the interests of police officers.
If it forgets that then it will die – because officers will stop paying their subs.
Fed reform, and the need for balance
See also - Damning report on Police Federation