Gale's View - Police (December 12th 2007)
We treat our uniformed services disgracefully, do we not?
It is barely a week since three former Chiefs of Defence Staff, including the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, Admiral The Lord Boyce, blew the whistle on the scandal that represents the manner in which our soldiers, sailors and airmen are equipped, housed and cared for when injured.
Hard on the heels of that denouncement, hotly denied of course by our part-time Secretary of State for Defence, came the concerns over Fire Brigade terms and conditions, announcements of cutbacks in fire appliances designed to meet Government efficiency "targets" and rate-capping, and the removal, from Chief Fire Officers, of the discretion to retire injured and sick firefighters prematurely. It takes quite a lot to unite the Fire Brigades Union and the Chief Officers Association but Gordon Brown's Government has managed it.
And now we find our own Chief Constable, Mike Fuller, making common cause with the Police Federation's General Secretary, Kent's Jan Berry, over the manner in which Brown's Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, has sought to gerrymander the police pay agreement for this year.
Be in no doubt, Home Secretary, the men and women of the Constabulary, from top to bottom, are spitting tacks. Like the Army, the Navy, the Airforce, Firemen and no doubt nurses also, they feel cheated and undervalued and taken for granted. And they feel that with good reason, Home Secretary.
Throughout the summer and early Autumn I have received letters from constituent policemen and women complaining about the failure, on the part of Brown's government, to strike a fair pay and conditions settlement. Meeting with individual officers out of office hours and out of uniform I found men and women who, with years of valuable training and experience behind them, were disillusioned and seriously considering quitting "the Job". We had hoped and believed that the referral of the deadlock to binding arbitration would at least deliver a resolution in time for Christmas and, hopefully, a deal that would allow the force to move forward and get on with the task of fighting crime.
It has been, therefore, a kick in the teeth and a measure of the contempt in which this government apparently holds the constabulary that instead of backdating the agreed pay award to the traditional September starting date of the police pay year the Home Secretary, backed presumably by the failed Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr Darling, and a beleaguered Prime Minister, has sought to re-cook the books by setting the start date at the beginning of December and thus screwing the police out of three months` pay increase.
We are talking about, for the average copper, about £200 in the current financial year. In the great scheme of things, or totted up as pints of beer, that might not seem like a great deal. The underhand manner in which this has been delivered, though, and the clear signal sent out from the Home Office to the men and women that we charge with the duty of keeping our streets reasonably safe, will leave a deep scar. Even if, by the time that you read this, a deal has been cobbled together, the present Home Secretary will remain damaged goods. She has failed and she should go.
They tell you that with the warrant that you receive when you take the oath you also get a set of Mark One Police Eyeballs. If only it were as simple as that. You cannot switch on a policeman overnight. My own relatively brief and less than heroic time on the beat taught me that however well-trained and however brave it takes experience that money cannot buy to create a professional thief-taker. When the boys and girls in blue hang up their helmets and their quik-cuffs in disgust it will take years to fill the gaps that they will leave.
We pay lip-service, in politics, to the courage and the dedication of those who we require to don uniforms and to do our dirty work for us. We are going to have to offer a great deal more than talk, however, if we are to restore the broken confidence of those who guard and care for us.