The Police Federation is the trade union for police officers. A pretty appalling outfit it is too. However, for the Police Community Support Officers, and many police support staff, the union they tend to join is UNISON. UNISON is the second largest donor to the Labour Party handing over £2 million a year. In return they have a big say in the selection of Party candidates – for instance for Police and Crime Commissioners.
UNISON is certainly throwing its weight around. The Labour candidate for Gwent has pledged to it, that he will reinstate some Custody Detention Officers.
The "Annual Report" of UNISON's "Fighting Privatisation in Police and Justice" campaign says:
"Our ‘Stop Police Privatisation’ campaign continues and it is gathering support. We need to ensure that UNISON-backed police and crime commissioner candidates are fully supportive of this campaign and that they are signed up to UNISON’s agenda for police and justice."
Who are these UNISON backed candidates? How much money has each of them had? The Electoral Commission merely says that UNISON donations to the Labour Party nationally will be recorded. We are not told – and will never be told by the Commission – which Labour candidates are getting money.
Rachel Rogers in Dorset tweets that she hasn't had any.
Jane Basham, Labour's Suffolk candidate for the police and crime commissioner seems to be backed by UNISON as does Merseyside candidate Jane Kennedy who has declared: "UNISON, we can assure you we stand united against police privatisation."
Lord Prescott has denied taking the UNISON shilling. What of Shaun Wright in South Yorkshire and Mark Burns-Williamson in West Yorkshire. A spokesman for those two said: “All donations made to the Labour Party are declared to the Electoral Commission in compliance with the law.” Why not just answer the question if they are not ashamed of the answer?
The conflict of interest was summarised by Sam Chapman of the Top of the Cops blog.
It doesn’t feel right – you’re going to have to make decisions about staff whose representatives have given you money. You might have to decide, for example, about the balance of PCSOs versus police in your force, with the PCSOs in a union which has funded you and the police officers in the [Police] Federation, which hasn’t.
This is not to say that Police and Crime Commissioners should not have regard for the views of the Police Federation, UNISON and everyone else. For instance UNISON has called on PCSOs to have more power. I'm sure that in doing so they represent the views of the PCSOs and also the interests of law abiding members of the public. One of the most pathetic things I have ever heard at a Council scrutiny committee meeting was that PCSOs are instructed not even to use the power of citizen's arrest which we all have.
Usually the emotive reference to opposing police privatisation really means opposing reforms that would mean greater use of the private sector in back office functions to provide savings and release more money for front line policing.
These issues should be decided on merit. The problem is if a PCC has already been bought and paid for by UNISON.