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Free speech comes at a cost – you have to listen to those you disagree with

Thursday, 12 May 2016

by Steve White, PFEW Chair

It’s a juicy line-up at this year’s PFEW Annual Conference. If you haven’t yet had a look at the agenda, do it now.

The speakers include the Home Secretary Theresa May, Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham, HMIC’s Sir Thomas Winsor, College of Policing’s Alex Marshall and NPCC’s Sara Thornton. And you can watch it all LIVE online.  

Our theme is #BelieveInBlue – believe in your local force, believe in the bobby on the street, believe in your local neighbourhood policing team – duty is just the beginning. There are so many fantastic police officers out there, risking their lives every day, and we want to highlight those men and women in blue.

Conference is an exciting time. There’s a lot of media attention on us and it offers the chance to get our biggest issues some air time. It’s also a chance for us to come face to face with some of policing’s most high-profile critics and with partner organisations that we might not always see eye to eye with.

We often get asked why we continue to invite the Home Secretary to speak at conference. If we don’t engage with the Secretary of State to get our messages across to government, who are we going to speak to? Negotiation is our main weapon in the absence of the right to take industrial action, and we need to get the people who can make the changes we want in the room to do that.

Last year, particularly as a result of the Q&A session at conference, there are a number of things that the Home Secretary took away and said she would action, and she has done so. For example, officers being unable to retire because of misconduct - that has been reviewed and there is a 12-month window now. This change was a direct response to a question that was raised by a delegate at conference.

Increasingly there are staff associations that are unable to attract those with the power to make change happen; other Secretaries of State often don’t go to their relevant union conferences for all sorts of reasons. The fact that we are firmly in the calendar of the Home Secretary and the Shadow Home Secretary demonstrates the importance of the Federation as a staff association and its members. It demonstrates that frontline police are important and the government wants to listen.

But if we don’t listen to them, how can we expect the government to listen to us? It’s hugely frustrating when we can’t get a person or an organisation to even come to the table.

It would be easy to say, ‘we don’t like the government of today, we will have nothing to do with them’. But we cannot negotiate without having a conversation. We have to work with the people who are in the seats of power in order to make things better for members and that’s why we invite those figures to conference.

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