Effective communication with government is key for moving policing forward

17 May 2016

PFEW Chair Steve White

PFEW Chair Steve White

Effective cooperation with government is being called for by the chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, Steve White, at our annual conference in Bournemouth today.

Speaking to the Home Secretary Theresa May, he said he was drawing a line under the kind of “gladiatorial contest” that creates “distrust and suspicion”. He then gave the Home Secretary his assurance that the Federation would work with the government to deliver improvements in policing for the public.

Calling for reform to make the police service of England and Wales more efficient and more joined up, Mr White claimed that reform is being confused with cost-saving and is being driven by short-term financial concerns that lead not to strategic reform, but to under-resourcing, leaving police officers vulnerable and the public unprotected.

He insisted on the need for the Federation to have a seat at the negotiating table on the Police Reform Board (PRB) and criticised the lack of cooperation to date.

Read the full speech here, a summary is below.

On Hillsborough: 

Mr White paid respect to the families of the victims of the Hillsborough tragedy stating, “Our thoughts and deepest sympathies remain with the families and friends of the 96 people who lost their lives” before leading the delegation of 1,200 police officers in a minute's silence to remember those who died.

He stated that “Sadly, like every organisation, errors are made. Nowhere more so than at Hillsborough 27 years ago.”

Acknowledging that Hillsborough was “a tragedy that should never – and will never – be forgotten” he asked that the mistakes of the past not be blamed on the new generation of police officers and that “we must draw a distinction between the actions of a minority of senior officers decades ago and the behaviours of the majority of our members today.”

On accountability and the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC):

He said "We must be held accountable for our own actions and inactions. Accountable to the law, to parliament and to the public we serve. However, officers need to know they will be treated fairly."

Discussing new IPCC guidelines on dealing with firearms officers after an incident, he called for police to be treated as witnesses and not suspects when assisting with IPCC enquiries.

He said that officers must have “confidence that, should they be compelled to discharge their firearm in a split-second life or death situation, they will not automatically be arrested on suspicion of murder.”

On the fight against terror and need for fully funded resources:

Highlighting the danger following the terror attacks in Paris and Brussels, Mr White made reference to the Home Secretary’s comments at last year’s conference when she called him “the boy who cried wolf” for claiming that cuts have consequences. Mr White said “If I sound like the boy who cried wolf well, the word on the street is that there have been verified sightings of the wolf”.

He welcomed the decision by Chancellor George Osborne not to introduce any further police cuts and his promise to protect the protectors by providing the police with the tools they need to do the job.

Commenting on the fact that the crimes which are rising fastest are those that are under-reported such as online fraud and other cybercrime, he warned that this is precisely the kind of crime that the police are currently least equipped to deal with.

Remembering those who died on duty:

Delegates paid tribute to PC Sahib Lalli and PC David Phillips who both lost their lives while on duty last year.

Mr White appealed to the Home Secretary to commit to increasing the sentences of those guilty of assaulting public servants doing their job – helping and serving their communities. He also spoke about the work the Federation is doing to help the Home Office in improving the data on officers who are assaulted.

On the use of personal protective equipment (PPE):

Commenting on the Review of Lethal Force announced by the Prime Minister in December, Mr White said “they need to trust our judgement when we say there should be a wider roll-out of Taser for those officers who volunteer and receive proper training." He added “nobody likes to see guns on the streets. In an ideal world, nobody would want to see Taser on the streets but as long as there are violent individuals at large armed with knives, guns and worse, the public needs to know that those who are charged with protecting them have the tools they need to do that job,” before calling on the Home Secretary to increase the police budget to roll out Taser.

On extra powers for special constables and volunteers:

He said, “Volunteers do a fantastic job in support of the police but they are not police officers and they must not be burdened with responsibilities that go beyond their competence and training.” He highlighted the concern around increasing powers of police staff and volunteers, stating “The public expects its police service to be professional, highly trained and independent of political influence and private interests.”

On public trust and the Believe in Blue campaign

Commenting on the public trust for the police, he referred to statistics which show a 68% trust level (Ipsos MORI poll 2016) compared to just 21% for elected representatives. The chair then introduced the Federation's new Believe in Blue campaign aimed at turning covert public support into overt public support and to remind the country what a brilliant job the British police do every single day.

He reminded delegates that police officers are at the heart of our communities, saying “We are not only single-minded crime fighters, we are also the glue that binds communities together. We don’t just uphold the law, we stand for decency and fairness. We look out for the vulnerable, we stand up for the victims of injustice and we protect those who are under attack.”

On remaining independent:

Mr White reaffirmed the position of the Federation as a nonpartisan organisation, stating that we are willing to work with any government that enjoys a democratic mandate. He pointed out however that police officers take an oath to the Queen and not the government. Stating that the police are “public servants, not politicians” and asserting that “the public understand that we serve them best by fiercely guarding our independence from the government of the day.”

On merging forces:

Mr White called the suggestion of merging police and fire service roles “a non-starter” stating "we are best-placed to see what kind of reform will actually make our service more effective, rather than making false economies that harm policing."

On distribution of funding:

He called for consistency and transparency, stating “The way various forces are allocated funding is uneven, unsystematic and confusing, so confusing that it even resulted in a “statistical error” by the Home Office last year."

On funding and pay:

Mr White reminded delegates that police officers have been hit with a real-term pay cut of 15% over the past six years. He referred to the Prime Minister’s comments earlier this year that: "There’s no such thing as a safe day if you’re a police officer,” before appealing to the Home Secretary to honour the sentiment and uphold the decision made by the pay review body. He stated "We’re not asking for spectacular bonuses, just respect and adequate compensation." He asked that the Home Secretary honour the pay review body’s recommendation, even if it exceeds the 1% public sector pay cap." The Federation has called for a 2.8% pay rise.

On facility time for fed reps:

Challenging the misconception that most fed reps are in full-time roles the chair invited the Home Secretary to take the opportunity to thank the hundreds of fed reps across England and Wales, who do their Federation duty in their own time. Calling them “the unsung heroes of the police service.” 

In closing:

Addressing the Home Secretary directly Mr White said, “You are not dealing with belligerent people, police officers are on side. The Police Federation is on side. Our members are selfless men and women who give their communities everything they can.” He asked the Home Secretary not to take them for granted because for the men and women in blue, duty is just the beginning.

Read the full speech here