As delegates at police and justice conference came together in the flesh again for the first non-virtual UNISON conference since the start of the pandemic, there was an almost ferocious determination to make sure that they got through every bit of business on a packed agenda.
Opening this morning in Brighton, with social distancing, face coverings, hand sanitiser and COVID passports all in evidence as the UK’s level of cases remains stubbornly high, delegates were keen to stress how members across the service group had gone out of their way to play their part in keeping communities safe during the crisis.
But there was a clear feeling that many of the wider population – together with politicians and media – do not understand what police support staff do or value them accordingly.
As Christopher Charles from Hampshire and Isle of Wight put it, police and justice staff were not being applauded on doorsteps.
Yet during the pandemic, nobody questioned the commitment of those in the sector, as they faced, “the most challenging times most of us have seen and hope ever to see”. But the 0% pay offer the sector is facing showed that it was “not recognised”.
He cited control room colleagues as being “most disappointed with being considered non-operational”. Ultimately, “no matter what role we perform or serve as police staff, we do serve”.
Karen Pearl from Lancashire picked up the theme. Control room staff, she said, “supported members of the public who are threatening to take their lives; crime scene staff visit the scenes of horrific crimes.
“We are one service and should be treated as such.”
And noting the call for police support staff to have an appropriate form of award for long service, she asked: “Do I need a medal? No, I don’t, but it would be nice.”
Zero interest offer
The issues of that 0% pay offer and the lack of recognition ran through the morning.
Hannah Ellis for the Police Staff Council for England and Wales told delegates: “We all know the value of our police staff members. UNISON has always spoken up for police staff. But outside, few understand what so-called ‘civilian staff’ do”.
When people dial 999, she observed, they assume they are speaking to a police officer. Members, potential members, the general public, politicians and the media all seemed to be under this misapprehension, which by default, then downgrades the work that support staff do.
Ms Ellis was proposing a motion for a campaign to raise the profile of police staff, “to say: ‘police staff matter’, that their skills are recognised and they are treated as they deserve”.
Conference agreed, and charged the service group executive to devise and launch a UNISON campaign aimed at “our police staff members, reminding them that we understand them and that we are here for them” and potential police staff members and the union’s “membership in general”.
Delegates also lauded the return of most Community Rehabilitation Company staff into the Probation Service, as a direct result of UNISON’s work to reunify the service. As a result, the union’s membership has doubled – and the number of reps has increased too.
It was noted that it was good to hear that the UK government has “started the programme to increase police numbers – but the 20,000 extra police officers doesn’t cover what was lost under the Tory government”.
However, “there are several thousand police staff roles performed within policing. PCSO numbers have been slashed, and in some forces, totally eradicated – who are the eyes and ears of the police force now – not the police officers – who will walk the beat?
“The big question is – why increase officer numbers to leave them sat in offices doing police staff work?”
On probation, Frank Radcliffe from Eastern Region probation described how he had visited local MP Grant Shapps, to ask him how the privatisation of rehabilitation would work, being told: “Payment by results is the answer”.
But as Mr Radcliffe continued: “You can’t measure rehabilitation by payment by results – if a murderer re-offends by only stealing a Mars Bar, that’s still a victory for rehabilitation, but won’t be noticed by payment by results”.
Other motions saw delegates support:
- service-wide use of body-worn video equipment where appropriate;
- backed Operation Hampshire, which provides a “comprehensive model” to tackling assaults on police and police staff;
- called on the service group executive to work with the national young members’ forum to develop a strategy to bring more young people into membership and activism in the service group.