Many officers who have taken promotion exams are now awaiting their promotion, but increasingly officers are finding themselves locked in career limbo. Royston Martis reports
Are you one of the police officers in England and Wales all ready to be dressed up in your sergeants’ stripes or your inspectors’ pips… but with nowhere to go? Thousands of constables and sergeants across the country have passed Parts I and II of the OSPRE promotion process hoping to climb the career ladder.
One slight problem – with forces cutting their numbers across all ranks, including management positions, there are no jobs for them to go into. Cue frustration, a huge hit to morale and bobbies on the beat with aspirations wondering whether policing is still the vocation for them. So how can the service – still suffering following severe attacks to police pay and conditions – maintain motivation? What now for those locked in career limbo?
“I am absolutely devastated by the lack of opportunity,” says a PC from Greater Manchester Police, who has passed both OSPRE Parts I and II. “I have been an acting sergeant on and off for some time… I am beginning to get worried that I won’t get promoted at all.”
The officer, who asked not to be named for fear of affecting his promotion chances, adds: “I am very upset and it is really demoralising – it is affecting my work and home life. It is not fair to be kept in this limbo.
“I have started to look at job adverts… I love this job but I am beginning to feel there are no opportunities to further my career. I feel like I am hitting a brick wall.”
It was revealed last year, under a Freedom of Information request, that at least 9,150 officers in England and Wales had passed the promotion process but had not been moved up a rank.
Some 6,496 PCs and 2,654 sergeants – around one in 14 constables and sergeants in England and Wales – had passed both OSPRE Parts I and II, or work-based assessment equivalent, and were waiting for a role to go to.
As only 36 out of 44 (including the British Transport Police) forces responded to the FOI request, in reality the figures would actually be higher. One of those officers is PC Peter Ormond, from West Midlands Police. He says: “I invested a great deal of time revising and preparing, and also a fair chunk of money to pay for revision materials and courses for both parts. It is extremely frustrating… I feel we are all being dangled on a string at the moment.
“Should forces temporarily stop the exam process until they have cleared a ‘back log’ of already qualified officers? At least this way, they are being honest with officers. However, if they do stop it, there is a risk of those aspiring for the next rung to leave and take their skills elsewhere, to the loss of the organisation.”
It appears constables and sergeants are beginning to work out for themselves that there is a lack of career opportunities currently available for them in policing. Ciaran McGuigan, head of examinations and assessment at the National Policing Improvement Agency, says there has been ‘a noticeable drop’ in attendance at the OSPRE Part I exams and Part II assessment centre. In 2011, 7,017 candidates took the OSPRE Part I Sergeants’ exam which, compared to the 9,354 candidates the year before, is a 25 percent decrease. Later in the year, 1,988 officers sat the OSPRE Part II Sergeants assessment centre – a 30 percent drop year on year.
Mr McGuigan says: “Across both the sergeants’ and inspectors’ [promotion] processes, attendance numbers are down.” He added that this “is perhaps further indication of the limited promotion opportunities currently available in forces.”
When a limited number of roles do become available, there is now understandably a huge scrap for every job. “The bottleneck of officers is getting worse,” says a sergeant from South Wales Police, who has been waiting to become an inspector for more than five years.
“There do not seem to be any opportunities on the horizon. I am ambitious and it is so frustrating. It is affecting my morale on a day-to-day basis.”
So what does the sergeant – who also asked to remain anonymous – think could be done to help the thousands of front line officers locked in career limbo? “Communication would help,” he adds. “Telling us where we are in the promotion process. Perhaps they should also be looking to provide us with some career development rather than us just passing OSPRE Parts I and II and then being left alone.”
Chiefs are aware of the problem and in a statement to Police magazine, ACPO says it wants the service to be able “to recognise expertise through the pay system, rather than through rank and years of service”.
Peter Fahy, ACPO lead on workforce development, admits that a lack of promotion opportunities for officers is “a very serious issue which affects the morale and motivation of our staff.”
Mr Fahy, also chief constable of Greater Manchester Police, adds: “Before the economic crisis the police service faced a major challenge as more and more officers worked to progress up the ranks. It was clear that the workforce had greater aspirations to progress.
“Most forces were also looking to reduce the senior ranks, the current climate is only going to exacerbate the problem. ACPO has covered this in the Winsor review [into police pay and conditions]. We have highlighted the need to look at other ways of rewarding and incentivising officers with a greater emphasis on development and lateral progression.”
However, John Giblin, Police Federation of England and Wales lead on professional development, said with the “vast majority of forces” not promoting, “it is a very, very bad time for people with aspirations”.
He added: “It is disheartening for officers to see the lack of promotion opportunities. That is the problem the organisation has at the moment – how do you manage talented people? And manage their expectations? I really don’t know how you can keep people motivated at this time.
“Ambition is a brilliant thing – and we have so much talent in the organisation – but people are hitting the buffers.”