Police force keeps watch on sector shake-up plans

first_imgDavid Blunkett’s plans to overhaul the police in a bid toimprove efficiency and crime fighting ability will provide the force’s HRdepartments with a major challenge over the next 12 months. By Ross WighamThe police force faces a period of huge culture change during 2002 followingthe Home Secretary’s radical proposals to revamp the force. David Blunkett’s 10-point plan for reform, which includes introducingperformance-related pay and tackling under-performing forces, is the subject ofdelicate negotiations between the Home Office and the Police Federation. The federation, which represents 125,000 rank and file officers, isconcerned the reforms could drive down standards and force officers to worklonger hours for less money. It is also unhappy about Blunkett’s plan to recruit thousands of civiliansas uniformed police officers, which is one of the key aspects of the reforms. HR will have to take a lead role in ensuring the reforms, which are underconsultation until mid-February, are introduced effectively. Ian Todd, chief superintendent for personnel at Northumbria Police – theonly force in the country to have seen nine years of crime reduction – broadlysupports the proposed reforms, but stressed their success will depend on howthey are implemented. “There are several big questions. We’ve got some general steers onwhat’s going to happen, but the devil will be in the detail,” he said. Todd is not opposed in principle to one of the major proposals – to employcommunity wardens with police powers – although he thinks there are questionsto be answered before they can be introduced. “This may be part of the police force’s evolution, but we need to knowwhat powers they [the community wardens] will have, because it raises all sortsof HR issues like health and safety and training,” he said. “I’m certainly not against the idea, but we need to know more. Who willtrain them and who will be responsible for them? “There are lots of personnel issues we have to deal with, like what therewards will be and where their powers stop. “Also, what if they’re injured on duty? There’s lots of work to be donebefore it can be fully implemented.” The Northumbria force has already trained 30 community wardens tocrime-prevention standard. They operate in Blyth Valley and Morpeth and theyare there to help reduce crime and have a visible presence. They have no police powers, but wear an identifiable red uniform and arepaid by the local council. Todd believes plans to overhaul traditional work practices are overdue. Heexplained, “Speaking as a personnel office in the police, our regulationsare outdated and restrictive and the time is now right to look at them andmodernise them. “At Northumbria, we’ve been embracing the strategic HR policies liketraining, job sharing and better hours. These changes will help bring togetherthe strategic strands of HR management in the force.” Northumbria has already transformed the way it manages sickness absence withdramatic results, and Todd has no doubt that all forces will benefit from theplanned occupational health strategy. “We’re second in the country for reducing sickness. We introducedrobust policies and we have doctors, welfare officers and nurses on our staff.The force should look at a holistic approach to OH policy,” he said. “Frankly, I don’t know how some forces can do without these measures.After we implemented them, we reduced the average time off sick from 12 days toeight, at a saving of £2.8m.” The Association of Chief Police Officers also backs the reform plans,providing there are sufficient resources to ensure they are introduced effectively.Sir David Phillips, Acpo president and Chief Constable of Kent Constabulary,said, “The Government’s proposals contain much that we support. As leadersof the police service, we recognise the need to enhance the professionalism ofpolicing. We want to provide the public with a better-skilled, better-trainedservice, which is properly resourced. “The significant aspects of this programme are about the investment inpolicy development, training and skills, providing a workforce to match thecomplexity of the problems we face in tackling crime and disorder in such adiverse society. “It is unfortunate that the White Paper is rather weak on resources. Ifwe have to wait for the spending review of 2005-06 for investment in trainingand technology, we are planning for a slow start.” Acpo is firmly behind the plans to modernise work practices and the rewardsystem – including performance-related pay. Phillips said, “We also need to become more flexible in how we useresources. That is why it is important to overhaul our approach to regulationsand allowances so the right skills can be properly rewarded and we can use ourstaff to best advantage.” Fred Broughton, chairman of the Police Federation, is worried Blunkett’splans will hit officers in the pocket and damage morale. Although the federation is optimistic that a provisional agreement on payand conditions reached at a meeting of the Police Negotiating Board on 27December will prove acceptable to members. It includes an increase in pensionable pay, a competency based pensionableincrease at the top of the pay scale and special priority payments forfrontline officers. The Police Federation backs the use of neighbourhood wardens for patrollingcrime-ridden council estates, but believes there is a limit to the powers androle that non-police personnel should be given. Broughton said, “At the very time the Government is seeking to improvestandards, it will be diluting them if it invests powers in non-policepersonnel. “The ability to intervene in sensitive and sometimes potentiallyhostile situations should only be carried out by those holding the office ofconstable with all the responsibilities that carries.” The federation concedes sickness absence rates need to be improved, butwants assurances that officers will benefit from increased support. “Policing, by its very nature, is a difficult, dangerous and stressfuloccupation undertaken in all weather, during anti-social hours and involving agreater degree of risk than virtually any other profession,” Broughtonsaid. “While we acknowledge that improvements in sick rates are needed, it isimperative they are accompanied by access to effective occupational healthtreatment and speedy access to the NHS.” He does not believe that his members have anything to fear from plans forincreased scrutiny by the Standards Units. “Monitoring performance in the force is nothing new for the service.Results have been scrutinised vigorously through performance indicators foryears and all forces are subject to review. “Crime and clear-up rates for individual divisions are alreadypublished,” Broughton added. 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