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STUC 2013 Perth

Police: Rushed changes disguise cuts as 'reform'

George McIrvine (Photo Louis Flood)

Congress backed a UNISON motion condemning plans to sack some 3,000 non-uniformed staff in the move to a single police force and fire service, to meet a political target on police officer numbers, rather than to reflect the balance of staffing needs for modern effective policing.

It reaffirmed its opposition to reforms based on cutting costs rather than improving services, and called on the Scottish Government to rule out privatisation and the wholesale contracting out of services, and to ensure that the focus of any reform is to improve services, with users and staff at the centre of decision making.

George McIrvine of the UNISON Scotland police branch, criticised: "the kind of mess that you end up with when politicians try to disguise cost cutting as 'reform' and put unrealistic political targets ahead of effective and efficient delivery of service."

Previously, in the Police and Fire Service, local authorities voted democratically elected councillors onto Police Boards and Authorities. They made decisions around the governance of Forces across Scotland and were held accountable to their local electorate and ultimately the Scottish Government.

"Now, we have one Scottish Police Authority and one Fire Authority, unelected and appointed by their peers, who make decisions about Policing and the Fire & Rescue Service", explained George.

"And this is where UNISON has concerns. I represent Police Staff members across Scotland and negotiate with the SPA around every element of employment. However, it is clear that we are being paid 'lip service' as the team we negotiate with have no power to conclude negotiations. The conclusion has to come from the Police Authority itself. And there is no mechanism currently in place to allow us to effectively talk to them."

George outlined how the Scottish Police Authority meetings are held in public however most last approximately no more than 60 minutes. "The 'carve up' decision making is made in the pre-meet, held in private which last for hours. It is not the first time Trade Union Officials have been at formal meetings to hear that consultation with the trade unions has been completed, when our understanding was that we were still in talks. That, congress, is not democratic", said George.

The government claimed that the creation of the single force and service was about efficiency, predicated around the imposition of budget decreases.

"We are told that best value is built into the Police and Fire Reform Act. So how efficient is it that there are now two bodies running policing. Two Sets of directors, departments where functions are mirrored. Two sets of Lawyers, HR Professionals, Finance Directors …… the list goes on.

"And how efficient is this process, where the SPA goes outside the current organisations workforce to recruit for staff when we have been told up to 3400 Police Staff jobs could be at risk?"

Vic Emery, SPA chair, appointed an external Business manager in his first few days in post. Even though there were going to be staff at risk in all of the existing forces, he appointed an external candidate at twice the salary of those already working for the Police. "Even more galling, the individual is a co-director in two of Mr Emery’s shell companies", said George.

"It doesn’t stop there. There are three Director level appointments in the 'so called' interim SPA structure who have all come through external consultancies. FOI requests show that these appointments are costing the public purse around £100k per annum. Each. And this is efficiency?"

An artificial manifesto pledge to maintain Police Officer numbers at 17234 means that political shackles have been placed on the Chief Constable which restricts him to effectively have a balanced workforce of Police staff and Officers. Stephen House has publicly stated that, for example, he would take Police Officers from control rooms and every job where Police 'Warranted Powers' are not required and put them on the public street. They would be replaced by Police staff at a fraction of the cost.

However he is unable to do so as he has to maintain officer numbers at a figure which was flawed when it was first conceived and based on an arbitrary figure rather than one which has any operational substance.

"In addition, our comrades south of the border have already witnessed attacks with employers contracting the likes of G4S, Steria etc in Forces such as Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire and West Midlands to carry out so called backroom functions", added George.

"Congress, there are agendas driving change which have nothing to do with providing the improvement of services in Scotland. A highly political agenda rushing through changes based on shaky business cases which have consequences for more than just the Police and Fire Services of Scotland."

17 April 2013

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