9 July 2019
There has obviously been much anger, confusion and anxiety among colleagues since the Supreme Court almost two weeks ago rejected the Government’s appeal on a previous Court of Appeal ruling that transitional protections afforded over some firefighters’ pensions were unlawful.
While I understand officers’ frustrations, I am unsure what the Supreme Court decision has changed in terms of the future of our own pensions beyond moving us to the next and final stage in the process.
To be absolutely clear at the outset, I share the anger felt by members and the Police Federation of England and Wales itself at the way policing has been treated since the coalition Government was elected in 2010. From the outrageous way our pensions were changed to the decimation of policing budgets, we are seeing the dreadful consequences of the Government’s policies in terms of rising crime and officer wellbeing.
At times, it seems people forget it was the Government that did these things to us, not the Police Federation which has passionately stood up for policing while others (who we might have been entitled to expect to support us) stood by, made excuses and let it happen. Some of those people, having done well professionally and with the benefit of now drawing their pensions, are now finally making their voices heard. But we needed them to do that seven or eight years ago when their support may have helped us resist what has been done to us.
Striving to obtain the very best terms and conditions, welfare and safety for police officers is at the very heart of everything the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) does, locally and nationally, regardless of some of the criticism you have seen levelled at it. It is OUR Federation, representing all of us. It’s YOU, and it’s ME. It’s people like John Apter, Alex Duncan and Simon Kempton at a national level and Kirsty Bunn, Adam Bryan, Jim Cook and Becky Smith in Derbyshire. I see their work on members’ behalf first hand. You can see it more than ever before through the efforts of our national chair, John Apter, to improve how the Federation communicates with members and the public.
I am regularly asked for Derbyshire Police Federation’s stance or position in relation to the Pension Challenge and the actions, or otherwise, of the Police Federation’s national officials.
I have discussed the issue many times with Derbyshire colleagues and can tell you that even within our Branch Council there is no consensus. I can, however, give you my personal view as chair which, for what it’s worth, will be honest and comes from several years of reading, listening and considering the issue from all sides. I think that you, as Derbyshire Federated members who pay your subs month in, month out, deserve that. Others can voice their differing views – and have done so - and as professional police officers you will judge the arguments on their merits.
Firstly, though, I think that the following three reports are very helpful in understanding the position and everyone with an interest should read and consider them.
A very recent letter from the general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation, Calum Steele, explains in frank detail the way the public sector pension changes developed. Calum was deputy secretary (to former Police Federation general secretary Ian Rennie) of the Staff Side of the former Police Negotiating Board during the changes.
A group of Federation branches in Region 2 (North East) sought independent legal advice to scrutinise the much-discussed advice that PFEW had obtained and upon which its position has developed. The PFEW legal advice will not be shared for reasons which are obvious to most – you do not give away the strengths and weaknesses in your case to the other side in ‘negotiations’.
PFEW also issued a comprehensive briefing paper earlier this year to explain its position.
It is clear to me that the way our pensions were changed was immoral and absolutely wrong. The Federation’s position on this was, and is, very clear – officers should be in the pension scheme they signed up to and any changes to those schemes should only have been applied to officers joining the service after the introduction of the 2015 pension - which is a Career Average Revalued Earnings scheme. That is what happened with the introduction of the 2006 scheme and that should have happened in this case. We should get the pension we signed up for when we committed to serve. That was the PFEW position while the scheme was being considered and developed and that continues to be the case.
I have a different view of the ‘major victory’ obtained by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) as I have concerns about what its case has actually done for us. I don’t consider myself to be particularly bright or a genius in debate (I do my level best for you…) but even I can sit with folk and make a compelling argument for why the protections given to police officers (and other public sector workers) in the last 10 years of their career was a right and proper thing to do.
I wonder why it is that the Government, which didn’t want these protections but agreed to them at some cost, couldn’t or didn’t make a compelling argument too either in the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court. Ask yourself how hard the Government tried to keep the protections and why.
I, like all PFEW colleagues, hope I’m wrong but it seems to me that the Government has been put into exactly the place it wanted to be in. The courts have told the Government the expensive transitional protections are illegal and that it must address that. The legal advice has always been that, should the protections be judged to be unlawful, the likely remedy is that the Government will simply remove those protections, disadvantaging those with them and with no advantage to anyone. That is exactly why the Federation did not challenge their introduction.
The implications, in terms of the cost of other remedies across the 5.5 million members of public sector schemes, makes it likely that the remedy will be detrimental rather than positive. You may have seen that the latest update from PFEW lays out what we expect in terms of remedy and seeks to encourage the Government not to inflict more unfairness on hard-working officers.
I fail to see the link between the court decision on the legitimacy of the transitional protections and the claim that this could result in the re-instatement of our original pension schemes. That was NOT part of the challenge and, as far as I’m aware, the introduction of the 2015 schemes has never been contested on a legal basis by ANY union or staff association based on the very clear legal advice that it was unchallengeable.
Our challenge is on a moral basis which we make out regularly. I know some Federation branches have distanced themselves from the PFEW position, even encouraging officers to believe that going back to those schemes is now a realistic outcome. I think that this is unhelpful. Police pensions will not be dealt with in isolation to other public sector schemes and I do not think that it’s in police officers’ interests to perpetuate that view.
All we can do is wait to see how the Government addresses the finding of unlawful discrimination and hope it surprises us with a remedy which is positive for all. The Government has said it will make an announcement before Parliament’s summer recess starts later this month.
PFEW will consider, react and deal with whatever remedy the Government comes up with.
The talk of the Government being in a weak position is, I think, also unhelpful. There are 5.5 million public sector workers but that number of votes wasn’t enough to dissuade Government from changing their pensions in the way it did. There have been two general elections since the schemes were introduced. It is worth noting also that the pension changes had cross-party support. It seems unlikely to me that politicians will see any value in committing to re-instating the old pensions so there will be no political will to do so. If we do make that argument it needs to be in union with all of the public sector unions to have any impact at all. It is completely unreasonable to suggest that PFEW alone can get that result.
I have seen some of the vitriolic abuse hurled at some of our PFEW national figures on social media. These are dedicated police officers who work tirelessly in the interests of officers up and down the country and are trying to open up the organisation in terms of transparency and availability to members. I have spent time with them and they are good people. I’ve convinced myself that the worst of the vile abuse has come not from police officers but rather from ignorant, anonymous internet trolls. The police officers I’m so proud to represent in Derbyshire do not speak to colleagues or anyone in the terms we’ve sometimes seen on Twitter. If police officers have indeed been responsible for the personal abuse suffered by John Apter then they should reflect on what they’ve said and hang their heads in shame. And they should apologise.
We look after and respect each other even when we vehemently disagree. Derbyshire colleagues regularly contact me with absolutely fair questions and concerns about the Federation and its failings but they have done so with respect and consideration and I (and all Derbyshire’s Federation representatives) am always happy to talk to them about their issues, openly and honestly. We are very proud to represent you. Sometimes the easiest thing to do is to jump on a bandwagon but I think properly representing the interests of all of you involves more than that.
As I’ve said to Derbyshire colleagues who’ve contacted me by phone, text, email, Messenger, WhatsApp and calling at the Fed office, I’m very happy to discuss their concerns in person but, having seen the level of debate on Twitter, I won’t be engaging in that. I am always here for you.