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Federation warns of funding gap over Specials membership

Plans to enable Special Constables to join the Police Federation have hit a stumbling block over who pays for their membership.

The Police Federation says it is unable to absorb the cost of representing thousands of Specials who carry out unpaid work for forces across the country.

Dave Bamber, the Fed’s lead for recruitment, training and development, told Police Oracle: “Money is the only issue. We can’t offer everything for free. It’s impossible for us. We believe simply that if the service wishes to use volunteers and place them in vulnerable places then the service should be prepared to fund that.”

The government has committed to changing the law to give Specials the same rights as full time officers under a raft of reforms due in the autumn that will include the Police Covenant.

Currently, there are more than 11,700 Specials regularly giving up their time to help their forces across the country and the government has launched a campaign to recruit more including Whitehall civil servants.

Increasingly they are carrying out specialist roles such has supporting rural crime investigations, finding missing people and analysing data.

But they currently have limited protection if something goes wrong.

Mr Bamber revealed the legislation is very likely to go forward despite the Brexit talks.

“The legislation to enable Specials to join the Federation will be in the Police Protection Bill. It’s not contentious so we are reasonably hopeful it will go through. At that point changes will need to be made to the Federation regs including the rules on eligibility,” he said.

“If they wish to join they will have as much coverage as full time members – and develop themselves through the Fed. We’re more than an insurance policy against disciplinary proceedings. It’s also about welfare of officers and developing with their other work.”

Parliamentary convention is that any new legislation that has a cost is funded by the department that created the legislation; in this case it is the Home Office.

Mr Bamber told Police Oracle: “There are a range of organisations that could provide the funding. It’s currently for local forces to decide on how they apply it.”

But the negotiations are focused on each force picking up the bill meaning the cash would most likely come from an increase in next year’s police precept in Council Tax.

It follows the trend as funding for forces other than for the Uplift recruitment came from a rise in local taxes. This enables the Prime Minister to keep his General Election pledge not to raise income tax.

The current talks are in a quad that includes Home Office officials, the Fed, the National Police Chiefs’ Council and Police and Crime Commissioners. If, as expected, the cost falls into local precepts then PCCs would have to sell the funding demand to local taxpayers.

All sides accept the need for Specials, particularly if they have skills from their day jobs that are useful to the force. But in using them for major investigations, the risk premium increases. Without full protection from the Fed, forces would have to create an alternative or deal with private legal challenges – and settlements.

The Association of Police and Crime Commissioners told Police Oracle: “The APCC is involved in discussions convened by the Home Office, along with other key stakeholders, about the change in legislation that will allow special constables to join the Police Federation, and how this will be implemented.”

The National Police Chiefs’ Council signalled that the talks are focused on finding agreement before the legislative changes begin in the autumn session of Parliament.

The NPCC lead for Citizens in Policing, Chief Constable Lisa Winward, told Police Oracle: “Special Constables play a vital role in the police service and undertake many of the same tasks as their regular colleagues. Therefore, they deserve to have representation and support that reflects their work in public service.

“We are working with colleagues across policing to secure the most appropriate solution to ensure that this representation is in place for our Special Constabulary members, including the option of Police Federation membership and funding, as soon as possible.”

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