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Vacant roles and a new deal: why the pay battle isn’t over

A 5% pay deal may not last until the end of the year - and the response from across the ranks made clear no-one is off the hook.

The day before the Prime Minister’s final appearance before MPs - and two days before Westminster’s summer recess - the offer for police officers landed as one of a raft made to the public sector.

It focused on the new recruits that the government needs to meet its manifesto pledge of 20,000 new officers within three years.

Boris Johnson’s 2019 general election campaign had kicked off with a controversial photocall at a police training centre promoting the Uplift pledge yet his stint as Prime Minister finished with a below-inflation deal for the police signed off without input from the staff side who had abandoned the pay process – and in the case of the Police Federation, a vote of no confidence.

The Home Office claimed the deal amounts to a 5% increase.

The PRRB said it had prioritised Uplift recruitment and had been limited by “affordability considerations”. It explained: “The Uplift Programme was on track at the end of its second year, but the evidence we have received about the prospects for meeting its third-year targets has been mixed.

“The police service needs a workforce equipped with the skills to meet the challenges of the 21st century and to restore and retain public trust and serve our diverse communities effectively.”

It added: “The need to be able to recruit and retain in policing high-calibre individuals who are insightful, diverse, digitally competent and have the right motivation has never been greater.”

Its statement also made clear its board is aware that officers are struggling financially.

“During our visits programme in late 2021, where we heard from almost 400 officers, we were told about reports of lower paid officers in debt and of many struggling to meet basic fuel and food costs," it said. "The financial pressures they face have increased since then and energy prices are now at unprecedented levels.”

Its recommendation was accepted by the Home Office.

The deal is:

The response from the staff side made clear the settlement was well-short of what was needed.

In an extraordinary joint statement, Chief Constable John Robins, Chair of the Chief Police Officers Staff Association, and Chief Supt Dan Murphy, National Secretary of Police Superintendents’ Association said the decision to protect new recruits was wrong.

“Yet again, this pay award fails to fairly reward or recognise those tasked with serving and protecting our communities."

They added: “This is the first time we have seen a targeted pay award – something that is incredibly divisive and creates both inequality and a lack of fairness across a service based on a rank structure. There is no long-term strategy behind this approach, which ignores the rank structure of police officer pay, and disadvantages those with the highest levels of responsibility.”

They shared a section of the PRRB report to demonstrate the wide spread in percentage terms for each rank.

Percentage value of £1,900 award, by rank (at 31 March 2021) min to max:

Constable 8.8% - 4.6%

Sergeant 4.3% - 4.1%

Inspector 3.6% - 3.3%

Chief Inspector 3.3% - 3.1%

Superintendent 2.7% -  2.3%

Chief Superintendent 2.2% - 2.1%

Chief Police Officers 1.8% -  0.6%

Lee Broadbent, Greater Manchester’s Fed Chair said: “No matter how this is dressed up, this is the biggest pay cut I’ve had in my 16 year service. 4.5% real term pay reduction.”

Although not raised in the joint statement, the deal also adds to an existing operational issue.

Response officers are unlikely to move to specialist roles as the pay incentive doesn’t match the extra responsibility.

Simply, their overtime will bring in more so becoming a detective, specialist investigator or middle rank now means a pay cut at a time when living costs are sky-rocketing.

The joint staff statement acknowledged this as a reality in policing: “The vacancy rate amongst chief officers is 20 percent; the worst it has been for many years and a figure that is rising," it said.

"While there is turnover at all levels in the police service, there are particular risks associated with losing significant numbers of those in senior leadership roles, particularly at a critical time for policing across the country.”

The entire staff side are taking the government to court in the autumn over the PRRB’s legitimacy. The pay freeze last year ignored its advice.

The Home Office has now been accused of cherry-picking recommendations.

The PSA and CPOSA said: “This year, the PRRB has lacked any input or evidence from the majority of the workforce, with the Police Federation and the Police Superintendents’ Association withdrawing from the process following continued concerns over the lack of fairness and independence of the pay review process.”

The board had advised an across the ranks settlement, not the targeted deal that’s been offered.

Supers and Chiefs said: “Ignoring this evidence and implementing this divisive pay award will add to inequality issues, low morale and motivation issues we know are embedded across the Service.”

Between now and the court date, there’s likely to be a summer of discontent – including within the staff groups.

Fed leaders are under pressure to decide on what to do next – not least because Police Scotland officers have started a work-to-rule.

One Fed member shared on social media: “Once again police are disproportionately treated compared to teachers and NHS. It shows how those who can take industrial action are paid better.”

The initial statement from the Fed, issued quickly after the pay announcement landed, was complex – and finely balanced as there is a reluctance to open the door to right to strike demands.

But it was challenged by some members. One said it “didn’t even manage a strongly worded statement but more a letter of thanks”.

There was no clear public position on what a fair settlement would look like. A figure of 9% had been floated in informal discussions.

Chiefs didn’t get off lightly either.The National Police Chiefs’ Council’s response was described on social media as a “fantastically tone-deaf statement”.

At the Fed’s national conference, the leadership briefed they had no faith in the Home Office and would be targeting the Treasury for lobbying.

So what happens now?

The Fed strategy is to target leadership contenders, Westminster influencers and the public ahead of the spending statement that will come in the autumn after the new PM is announced.

Ahead of the pay announcement, Andy Symonds, Chair of Norfolk Police Federation, blogged: “My members want to hear from the next Prime Minister - whoever that might be - that they will award my colleagues a decent pay rise that takes into account that we’re 20% down on where we should be in terms of pay.”

“The new Prime Minister would need to personally take ownership and direction in resetting the way police pay awards are managed. To instruct the Home Secretary to start serious conversations about how a future pay award process would work.

“To enter these conversations in a manner which is open and transparent with a commitment to change to a system that recognises the many restrictions placed on police officers. A promise to make the process truly independent and free from Government interference.”

And there’s also the police staff deal which will now have to be re-negotiated.

At the start of the year, when Police and Crime Commissioners were working out their council tax precepts, Police Oracle asked for their estimates of what a pay rise would be.

This was before living costs surged but even then, the estimates were below inflation. Avon and Somerset was the highest with a forecast of 3.5%. The rest were in a range of 2% to 2.5%.

The Home Office will fund half of the additional increase so as it stands, another precept increase is on the way – something most PCCs had already said they couldn’t sell to voters.

The Association of Police and Crime Commissioners said: “Police and Crime Commissioners will continue to work with police chiefs and the Home Office to ensure that policing is resourced appropriately now and in the years ahead.”

The Home Office and forces now have multi-year funding settlements – a reform announced earlier this year.

The Fed, PCCs and others say single year pay deals should be a thing of the past – and ministers want performance-related pay.

Even if the deal announced yesterday stands, the PRRB said the current system is no longer fit-for-purpose.

It said: “Once the Uplift Programme is completed, a framework for a fresh programme of pay reform is needed to sustain the drive for improved policing through the quality and commitment of its people and to enable the service to deliver the Policing Vision 2025 and meet the challenges beyond.

“We look forward to receiving evidence on this and a strategic workforce plan in the years ahead.”

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