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Interview: Steve Hartshorn on industrial rights, pensions and the Covenant

The Chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales tells Police Oracle the Federation has “learnt from the past” and is keen to get any ballot on industrial rights done properly.

Work is ongoing on the option of providing members with a ballot on industrial rights, the Chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales has said.

The National Secretary's office is in the process of preparing a paper to take to a National Council meeting in September where discussions will take place around what industrial rights might look like and what to bring to the membership. 

It could include asking members whether they want the full right to strike or action short of that such as withholding labour or refusing overtime.

“Do we look at the what exigency of duty actually means given that most things now we can plan for?” Steve Hartshorn adds.

“These are all kinds of things that we need to look at in relation to what industrial rights for policing means.”

He tells Police Oracle that the Federation will abide by the membership’s majority decision but that any progress won’t be quick and will cost money.

He stresses the importance of members being fully informed – with the Federation planning an information campaign complete with as much detail as possible on aspects including timescales and costs.

So far no dates are set in stone and the Federation are keen to make sure this is “done properly” including being fully compliant with GDPR.

“Whatever we do could be subject to a legal challenge down the line," he told Police Oracle. "So [we’re] putting all the building blocks in place now, to make sure that we try as much as possible to prevent any future litigation.

“This is members’ money we're dealing with here, we've got to do it properly and we want to do it properly." 

Mr Hartshorn underlines that the Federation has taken learning from the issues it is facing currently and that has contributed to the care taken over work around industrial rights.

“There is a genuine desire to get it right, to give the membership confidence that we are fit for purpose - which we are, we just also have to cope with a lot of issues from the past.”

Pensions Challenge

The Federation announced recently that they would not be appealing the pension Employment Tribunal judgment.

The next steps on this will be a set of hearings on case management. 

Mr Hartshorn acknowledged the judgement was “pretty damning” but says that no one on the current national board had any effective decision making in what happened.

“It was hard reading for all of us, not least myself because I was involved in pension challenge one - taking the government to court for the for the way that they decided to impose the pension.

“We needed time to understand the full magnitude of what that judgement said.

“Our job as the current national board, is to make sure that we have an effective Federation not just for today, but for the next 10, 20, 30 years.”

One of the key learnings has been to share legal advice with the National Board and the National Council where possible.

Mr Hartshorn says that the board he chairs is “more transparent, more available than any of the previous board that we've had”.

“I think I can be properly defensive of what we didn't know at the time because you don't know what you don't know.

“But having gone through and read the judgement, we're in a far better place now to be more professionally inquisitive and to make sure that single people do not have all that ability to act on information on their own – let other people see it so there’s more fingerprints on the tin.

“At the moment, we're still looking at the potential cost to the Federation - we do know it’s looking at multiple millions of pounds.

“That's not an insignificant amount we have to find from somewhere. There isn't one easy source of revenue that can generate that.

“We also have to balance that against keeping business as usual going.

"All of us currently are affected by the pensions. It's in our interest to make sure that it's done properly."


The discussions on industrial rights have come about in part due to concerns around pay.

The 7% award announced earlier this year received a “mixed reaction” from the Fed.

Having gone through the PRRB report, Mr Hartshorn has said there is nothing that has changed the Federation’s view that they need to go back into that mechanism as “it’s still not truly independent”.

“It’s just a bizarre relationship that we have where everything is imposed upon us and we have no right to address that – it doesn’t seem fair in the 21st century,” he says.

“At the moment without having any recourse to strike, withhold labour, not do overtime, all we can do is actually engage with the government.

“To say, look, we don't feel that the pay mechanism process we have is fit for purpose, everything is imposed upon us.

“I want the government to look at it properly to start valuing the police better. They know the cost of everything, but they don't seem to appreciate the value.

“We get warm words and platitudes, but they don't pay the bills.”

Police Covenant

A further area that Mr Hartshorn is not convinced the government is taking seriously is the Police Convenant – which the Fed have still not signed up to.

He remains concerned over the “lack of tangibles” and doesn’t believe the Covenant is asking anything of chiefs beyond what is already business as usual.

“Given that it’s supposed to mirror and was largely based on the military covenant, when I still hear stories about military veterans sleeping on the street, resorting to charity for help and welfare that means that the military covenant isn't working as it should do, which gives me concern for the future.

“So far, all I've seen from the covenant is that it's holding chiefs to account for things that they should be doing anyway in terms of welfare, occupational health, and providing support for police officers.

“What is there for an officer or their families at two o'clock in the morning, when most offices are closed, and the doctors' surgeries are closed? When an officer really needs help, or their families need help? So far, I've not seen anything that ticks that box.”

He calls for proper funding for it and underlines that he does want there to be something for policing and their families that is government backed.

“If you're going to bring in a covenant that says it's going to do something it must be funded to make sure it can happen.

“For too many years in policing, we have relied on the goodwill of a chief constable or a commissioner to do something and if they decide not to do it, there's no punitive action on it.

“If we need to make police officers a priority, let's make them a priority. I'm not going to shy away from that.”

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