Published:

20 comments

WalkerpPeter Walker, who retired as Deputy Chief Constable of North Yorkshire in 2003 and now owns a company specialising in training construction workers has applied to be the Conservative Party candidate for Police & Crime Commissioner in North Yorkshire. Here he backs the proposed Winsor reforms

The Conservatives went into the 2010 election with a clear manifesto commitment to change Policing for the better. Police & Crime Commissioners, to provide visibility and accountability, less paperwork, to get Police Officers on the streets, better use of technology, getting information to both Police and public about local crime – whilst at the same time dealing with national Policing issues, such as Organised Crime, Border Policing and Terrorism, by the creation of a single Agency to drive greater operational coherence. Taken together, the reforms presented the most fundamental change to the Police in decades.

It should not have come as a surprise to anyone that changes to the conditions of service for Police Officers and Staff would be essential to make these reforms work. The need for this was reinforced by the post-election discovery of a note declaring "There's no money left" from the outgoing administration, but this was almost an unnecessary distraction – to change Policing in such a fundamental manner would require the disposal of some of the outdated and costly regulations that in many cases hinder, rather than enable, Police operations.

The emergence last week of the second part of Tom Winsor's review of Police remuneration and conditions met with a predictable response from the Police Federation and the Superintendent's Association. The interesting juxtaposition between Press Statements to the effect that the review "needed careful
consideration" and their representatives appearing in the media before they could possibly have read it to denigrate all of its contents confirms what all should know – their job is to protect current practice.

Winsor's review slots neatly into the package of measures created by the Government to deliver 21st Century Policing. No other service has tolerated a system where staffing levels cannot be changed to meet new circumstances, or where the least able, performing the simplest of tasks and having every evening and
weekend off, receive exactly the same remuneration as the most effective, in the most complex jobs and working round the clock – yet that is the present pay system for Police Officers.

The public have an expectation that Police Officers will be fit enough to perform the dangerous job they do – yet most will be astonished that after the probationary period is completed, no assessment is made of their fitness – despite clear evidence that the Police have not been immune from the level of obesity seen elsewhere in society.

Similarly, to Police a society with a complex framework of criminal law, where effective investigation must generate high quality files of evidence for court proceedings to follow, Officers must have the intellectual horsepower and education to deliver a quality product. Once again, the public will be surprised to discover that at present, no formal qualifications are required to join the Police – and it must be unique amongst occupations to pay a starting salary of £23k for unqualified entrants.

Winsor has also recommended direct entry at both Inspector and Superintendent levels, a move designed to attract "the brightest and the best" with skills and capabilities to match. Similar arrangements concerning Chief Constable appointments include relevant common law jurisdiction experience.

A cursory read of the newspapers will reveal the justification for this – police leadership has woefully let the service down over the past few years – and this lack of confidence in those at the top extends throughout the junior ranks, as anyone with a Facebook following of Police Officers will know. (If you don't have this advantage, the summary would be that "the Bosses" slavishly follow targets, are totally risk-averse and are like rabbits caught in the headlights when managing reducing budgets, taking the easy decisions of doing away with front line Police Officers whilst not reducing bureaucrats.)

The review has been required to take account of public finances in coming to its conclusions and has reflected this by articulating the opportunity to rebalance the Police pay structure against the marketplace. Given that North Yorkshire Police – my previous force – received hundreds of thousands of telephone calls when it advertised some vacancies a couple of years ago – other forces have received similar levels of response – there is no shortage of applicants and starting pay can be changed to reflect this.

As in the rest of the Public Sector, Lord Hutton's proposals reflect the unaffordability of the present pension scheme and the need to acknowledge that people are now fitter for longer. Winsor describes a new pensions model which takes these factors into account. An important consideration is that of migration to "career average" rather than "final salary" pensions – which reward those who achieve promotion sooner and contribute proportionally more to their pension than "late developers" – a much fairer approach.

Ministers will now consider Tom Winsor's proposals, generate their response and put it through the Police Negotiating Board, where an inevitable outcome will be further transmission to the Police Arbitration Tribunal. With the shameful exception of Jacqui Smith, who gave her word she would abide by the PAT findings and then didn't, Home Secretaries have accepted the Tribunal's determinations – Theresa May did so with Winsor's first report. However, even this reinforces one of the proposals – that this costly and repetitive system should be amended – and rightly so.

At all levels of principle – Leadership; Rewarding the most able; Recognising not all Police jobs are the same; Operational fitness; Intellectual horsepower; Pensions and affordability – Winsor's recommendations have merit and the potential to drive the Police Reform process.

Whilst details will need to be finely judged, the report places Ministers in a position to underpin all their other changes with workforce arrangements that reflect modern practice, changes that will enable Police & Crime Commissioners to drive effectiveness, efficiency and value for money, changes that will see crime reduce by ensuring there are enough Police Officers to deliver an effective operational presence. Police Officers, fit, well trained and properly equipped. Officers who know their community, engage with its residents and become more effective in solving local crime problems.

It is essential Theresa May and Nick Herbert withstand the inevitable onslaught that will emerge from those with vested interests to retain the status quo.

20 comments for: Changing police employment conditions is key to reform