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West Midlands Police Federation

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Rank structure becoming outdated and unworkable, says Federation secretary

6 November 2023

A trial of proposed changes to the sergeant and inspector promotion processes is set to fail unless the fundamental issues around recruitment, pay and poor working environments are tackled, according to West Midlands Police Federation secretary Tim Rogers.

Tim, who was commenting after the College of Policing announced the year-long trial in a small number of forces nationwide, believes the rank structure itself is outdated and becoming unworkable.

“It simply restricts forces’ options in many ways and denies the right person with the right skills being put in the correct role. This is why we need a root and branch review of the rank structure. This latest trial is simply tinkering around the edges and I fear it will just end up wasting money while also delaying any proper consideration of whether our current rank system is still fit for purpose,” says Tim.

“But the backdrop to this is that our recruitment processes also need to be overhauled and the key to attracting the right candidates in the first place is making sure that police officer pay is fair and reflective of the unique dangers and challenges of the role. That is linked to the pay review process which also needs to be reformed.

“Beyond the issues around recruitment and pay, we also need to address retention issues and make sure that officers’ working environments are suitable. A chronic under-investment in force infrastructure during the austerity years has left us with inadequate office space, old and tired buildings, and in some cases a shortage of equipment and other resources.”

Among the changes being put forward in the College of Policing trial is the opportunity to demonstrate legal knowledge, rather than this being tested in an exam.

However, Tim says the legal exam is among the least problematic issues to be faced.

“There are no shortage of officers putting themselves forward for promotion from constable to sergeant and from sergeant to inspector. There are many with a great ‘can do’ attitude, however, some of them simply can’t and some are actually incapable but the current system allows those without the right skills to progress and gain promotion but then they are in a role they simply can’t do which leaves them failing their colleagues, failing the Force and, ultimately, failing the communities we serve.

“Sadly, the longer this continues the more expensive it will become, the more issues that will be created and the worse the service will become.”

The college has launched the trial, which will run alongside its new leadership standards and leadership programme, after feedback indicated the current promotion process was overly complex with insufficient focus on leadership skills.

“We would support the notion of operational competence being essential and needing to be proven, but we would say that emotional competence has to be given equal importance,” says Tim.

“We will await the findings of the trial, with the initial findings due to be considered in early 2025, but we would argue that this will not go far enough in terms of helping tackling the challenges forces are facing.”