Publications / Circulars
Open Meeting 2013
The meeting started with a video remembering fallen colleagues
Chief Constable, colleagues…..
That video reminds us of the sacrifice some of our colleagues make. Here at home we have felt the pain of losing one of our own. PC Steve 'slim' Rawson was killed on duty in April this year. Slims loss knocked us all, as a Force we came together in our grief and support of his family…The arms of the Federation have wrapped around Kerry and the children, and we will be there, for as long as they need us.
Then in September we lost PC Trevor Spencer. Trev was a proud member of the FSU and despite being struck down with an illness his determination, courage and professionalism meant he served his last days as a member of that team, something which was so important to him.
There have been many tributes paid to both of these fine officers. The most important of these is that we never forget them. And we will not.
Please stand to remember fallen colleagues.
Allow me to introduce the panel. I am John Apter and I am the Chairman of Hampshire Police Federation. We also have our Chief Constable, Andy Marsh. We also have our Police Crime Commissioner, Simon Hayes and I am very pleased to introduce the National Federation Chairman, Steve Williams. Tom Winsor was invited but his uniform is in for dry cleaning so he couldn't make it…..
So I will say a few words, the Chief Constable will respond and then our National Chairman will address you. Following this we can then get into the question time.
The past 12 months have been …….interesting. We have had a new Chief Constable, a new Deputy Chief Constable and since November last year we have a Police and Crime Commissioner who is there to be the voice of the people and to hold the Chief Constable to account. During the election I made no secret of my concern that the appointment of a Police and Crime Commissioner would bring politics into policing which would be damaging. Fortunately for us, Simon Hayes is non political. He is an independent PCC with independent views. Mr Hayes, you have taken the time to talk with the Federation, you have listened to our concerns and considered our suggestions. Whilst I appreciate you are there for the public, it is important that you listen to the voice of the service. The rank and file who live and breathe policing on a daily basis.
The cuts to the policing budget are taking their toll. First was a 20% cut which in real terms was £55 million. This forced centralisation of many department, the closure of front offices to the public, the selling off of police buildings, the reduction of police staff posts by many 100's, Joint working with Hampshire County Council and Hampshire Fire Service and a reduction of police officer posts. Since April 2010 we have reduced the number of police officer posts by 406. For a Force our size this is an 11% reduction.
Don't worry we are told, the frontline is unaffected by these cuts.
This is rubbish. This propaganda and spin from the Force must stop. The frontline is being affected and is at breaking point, and in some places it has already broken. The reality for officers on the frontline is continuously working at or below minimum safe levels, unable to take leave, unable to take time off, having their duties changed at a moment's notice because there are simply not enough cops to go around. There is absolutely no slack in the system, we have no resilience.
Sickness levels are going up, stress is going up…..I have been warning that with all of these cuts and change something had to give. We could not continue trying to do more and more with less and less. What is now clear is that the casualty in this is not crime figures, it's not performance it's the wellbeing of our officers and staff. Officers are breaking, we have reached a point where any further reductions to police officer numbers will make policing our streets impossible.
What we now see on a daily basis are officer's duties being changed at short notice. Now officers don't have many rights but the rights they do have are very often abused. Police Regulations (our legally binding rights) say very clearly that an officer's duty should not be changed with less than three months' notice unless it is for an exigency of duty. Exigency is a strange word and some managers have difficulty in understanding what it means…. so let me explain it. There are a number of definitions but in general terms it means this.....a pressing or urgent demand, an emergency. Something that could not have been predicted or planned for….. Far too often officers are having their duties changed at short notice for situations which are clearly not an exigency. Annual events such as festivals, the summer, Christmas should never come as a surprise to us but so often they seem to catch us unaware. What we are noticing more and more are that officers are having their duties amended with short notice to cover normal policing activity, day to day business.
This is because there are simply not enough cops to go round and those who are there are being taken advantage of. Some time ago I was discussing duty changes with the manager of a certain department where there was a mix of officers and staff. There had been a large number of short term duty changes for officers, but very few for staff. When I asked why this was the case the reply was 'because we can'. And that Chief Constable is the issue. Some senior managers think they can do as they wish because police officers just put up with it. This attitude must change and it must change now. If it doesn't, and Police Regulations are continuously disregarded the Police Federation will take legal action against the Force. This is something we both want to avoid if possible.
In these tough times policing is being stretched to the limit. We have fewer people doing more things. It seems everything is a priority and the hindsight brigade are always there to offer their opinion on what we should be doing, what we should have done better, and how we should improve….. We have had £55 million slashed from our budget, and we now have to find a further £25 million worth of savings. Things are tough and they are going to get much tougher.
The cuts across the public sector are having an impact. The Ambulance Service can't cope, the NHS is in crisis, the fire service are taking industrial action and things are not getting any better. It appears that during these tough times other areas of the public sector (sorry, the term is partners) have the wonderful ability to stop doing things. The impact of dealing with Mental Health is a real issue for us. As we don't shut up shop at 5pm, unlike our partners, it is our officers who are picking up the pieces and dealing with what are medical situations. But it gets better. The Ambulance Service are simply unable to attend all calls, so we agree to act as triage for them. Im sure it won't be long before we start to carry fire extinguishers and little ladders so we can help out the fire service when they get stretched.
It appears we just can't say no, despite the fact that we are on our knees. Its time our partners understood the meaning of a partnership, it's a two way street with us assisting each other.
With a further £25 million worth of cuts to find its time we took policing back to basics and stopped trying to be all things to all people. Rather than agree to add to our list of things to do, we need to decide what it is we will no longer do. And when people complain we should be honest and let them know it's the consequences of cuts.
The demands on our officers will increase. We are seeing an increase in Mutual Aid requests and the deployment to Northern Ireland during the summer is something I fear will be a regular occurrence.
So Chief Constable, with fewer officers, fewer staff and less money what is it we will stop doing. We just can't continue doing what we do, there are far too many plates spinning in the air and some of those plates don't even belong to us.
I want to talk about the use of volunteers in policing. The Police Federation doesn't object to well-meaning members of the public helping the service in back office functions which would otherwise not be completed. But recently the Force unveiled Horse Watch, a scheme which had volunteers in police uniform riding their own horses which were kitted out in police style equipment.
To members of the public they looked like a mounted police officer. The initiative of residents looking out for their communities isn't new, it's called neighbourhood watch. But to give them uniforms was the wrong decision and I have called for an urgent review which I am pleased you have now undertaken. It seems to be the norm at the moment to give any Tom, Dick or Harry a police uniform…. but let's make sure the way we use volunteer has integrity.
You have heard me say before that morale amongst police officers is at an all-time low. With the impact of Winsor, pension changes, uncertainty over redundancy and constant change in their work place it is no wonder officers feel let down by their Government and on occasion by ACPO. Lord Stevens, the former Met Commissioner and former Hampshire ACC has said "We have a national crisis of morale which threatens to undermine the work our officers are doing."
One thing that frustrated officers was a lack of acknowledgement that morale was low, the Force had its head well and truly stuck in the sand. Upon your appointment you publicly accepted this was an issue, a small but significant step. I understand that many things which affect morale are out of your control. But where you and the PCC can make a difference please make it.
So I will close by saying the Police Federation are not a blocker to change, we are not the obstructive old style union some have labelled us as. We are the voice of the service, we do this because we care. You are known as the listening Chief, you've listened…..it's now time to do the doing.
John Apter - 9th October 2013