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PSA President's conference address 2021

PSA President Paul Griffiths' address to the 2021 PSA Conference:

Colleagues and guests.

I am delighted to welcome you to the 2021 conference of the Police Superintendents’ Association, and to stand here in person, talking to a room full of people – a privilege and pleasure we will certainly never take for granted again. 

There are many areas in which we pose challenge to the government, but I have appreciated her continued efforts to speak directly with me, national officers and our members. I have been grateful for her positive engagement with our association during my tenure as president and we recognise the positive changes she has made in support of working hours for part time members and the recognition of our ‘on call’ responsibilities. It is disappointing that the Home Secretary is unavailable to attend our conference in person to address our members.

However, much of what I am about to say will not be easy listening for the government, chief officers or indeed for my colleagues in the room.

It is right that the government faces challenge, which will be part of my address today, 
as I believe that this government is failing officers and staff. 

Two years ago, I stood upon this very stage to deliver my inaugural speech as president of our Association.

The nature of policing is such that my predecessors will have dealt with unique challenges during their leadership, facing national reform and major operational incidents, many of which will have changed our Service delivery forever.

Did I expect the same? Of course.

Did I expect it to be easy? Never.

Did I expect to lead during a global pandemic? No.

Do I believe our Police Service has risen to the challenges? Without question.

Looking back over my conference speeches over the past two years, despite the fact that the surrounding context of each was markedly different, many of the issues remain unchanged. In fact, if I was to look over the speeches of my predecessors over the past ten years, sadly, I would no doubt see them relentlessly running through similar narratives.

Each year at conference, within this address, we celebrate the achievements of our Service and the pride we feel in policing. We also look at the context within which we are being asked to deliver and the framework our government provides to enable police officers to protect communities and keep people safe.

Every year we hear from government that our efforts are appreciated and valued and that those in power recognise the incredible Police Service our country is privileged to be served by.  We also hear promises and commitments to change that will make this recognition clear.

It is worth reflecting on the government commitments made to us in the last two years and the progress that has been made. 

In 2019, I welcomed and applauded the government’s commitment to returning our workforce numbers to those of 2010, with the promise of 20,000 new officers. No one would question the necessity for this generational recruitment drive.

I also explained the incredible demand facing our members, policing’s most senior operational leaders, who are tasked with leading this huge workforce growth, alongside the management of the most serious threat, harm and risk facing the public.

I explained that superintendents had taken the biggest reduction during austerity of any in the Service, whilst demand upon us soared and called for an appropriate and proportionate increase in our numbers to support the workforce growth.

In 2020, I explained that the result of this, was that the working hours of a representative sample of our members showed that before the pandemic, we were working the hours across the country of almost 160 additional full-time superintendents.

The Government agreed to provide, I quote, “the frontline leaders you need to make this work” and to hold Chief Constables to account for resourcing their forces in the most appropriate way.

Colleagues, I share with you today that according to official home office data, the number of superintendents across the UK has increased by only 25 in the last year.  From inspector rank through to chief constable, once again superintendents have seen the lowest rate of increase, and incredibly, our rate of increase is even less than that of chief officers.  Remembering, our rank received the highest cut under austerity measures.  

I will not be the only person baffled by these numbers.

We have repeatedly presented the evidence that clearly outlines the case for even a modest increase in colleagues to ensure that Service delivery is not compromised by piling more responsibility on superintendents as part of the Uplift Programme, in response to Covid, and alongside day to day demand.

Have no doubt, that sitting at the top of every process relating to Uplift is a superintendent, given full responsibility for getting the assigned numbers through the door. From clothing officers with uniform, boots and kit, to training them, dealing with HR, promoting their good work, a superintendent will be held to account. Most of all, we want to ensure that these new recruits deliver the best possible service to the public. 

But from an organisational perspective, these recruits need to enter an infrastructure that is prepared for them, and whilst this all happens, day to day work continues at a relentless pace.

Time and time again we are told that decisions around this sit with chief officers, but if the national direction clearly outlines a requirement for additional leadership at this level, who is being held to account to ensure this happens?  Should my colleagues just accept the fact that they are required to work hours that regularly contravene working time regulations, whilst also managing hundreds of staff that depend on their expertise and experience, and responding to critical incidents with huge discretionary effort to safeguard the public? 

No one in the room will have missed the hugely disappointing announcement received in July, confirming that there would be no pay increase for police officers this year.

We have publicly recognised the economic impact of the pandemic on our country and all have realistic expectations of what this means, but the story behind this decision is surely difficult to defend.

We have repeatedly heard from the government that they want “a better deal for the police and a worse deal for criminals.”

How is a ‘better deal’ a pay freeze for the people sent out on the frontline during a deadly pandemic, a pay freeze based on a decision that disregarded the independent processes put in place to safeguard the rights of public servants?

The government decided that there would be a pay freeze long before it took account of any evidence submitted to the Police Remuneration Review Body (as we know it, the PRRB). In fact, the PRRB was not given permission to make recommendations on this year’s pay uplift. 

Alongside this we hear that colleagues in the NHS, local authorities and fire service are to receive an uplift – something we applaud, yet that leaves the police as clear outliers for reasons we cannot fathom. We would have hoped that the home secretary would have been here today to help us understand.

No one enters policing to get rich. It is a vocation and a career that provides challenge and demands sacrifice like no other – something clearly demonstrated amidst the pandemic.  However, with very few employment rights, it is essential that police officers have fair and transparent processes in place to determine their pay, and that they have a clear voice within this. The government direction on public service pay has overridden these processes, making decisions around pay in advance of the evidence it requests from stakeholders right across the Service.

The PRRB itself has echoed these concerns, stating that it is “disappointing” that the pandemic has been allowed to affect the independence of the review body process, again preventing its ability to fully exercise its role. 

Currently, we have no procedural justice when it comes to pay and police officers are not being heard.  

It is for this reason that I can announce today that the Police Superintendents’ Association is withdrawing from the PRRB process.  

We no longer see the value of our involvement, which has no bearing whatsoever on the decisions made regarding pay.  We are in liaison with other staff associations over our options to challenge what we see as a clear violation of the agreed independent process.

I must also address the issue of police pensions.

I am staggered and saddened to report that we in the midst of legal action against our government.

Police pensions are a complex subject which I don’t intend to cover in detail here, but in summary, changes made by the government through the introduction of the 2015 CARE Scheme were found to be discriminatory based on age. The remedy put in place is now bringing additional discrimination and leaving thousands of police officers in a position where they will have to work longer to receive less pension than they were promised when they joined.  Our colleagues who may have taken career breaks, or worked part-time, often to start a family, will be even more adversely affected.

We have launched a judicial review against the government’s pension remedy, and we have launched employment tribunals in support of some of our female colleagues on the basis of potential future sex discrimination, based on the government’s published proposals.

Let’s be clear on this.  We are taking legal action against the government for the unfair treatment of their police officers. A police service described as “the best police service in the world” 

Is this the way our government should treat the people who deliver the world’s best police service?

These matters may be based on figures but they are rooted in values, recognition and wellbeing. The Government cannot escape the powerful linkages that exist and are seen by everyone.

‘Wellbeing’ is a word often used that encompasses so much.

The wellbeing of our people is impacted by a huge range of job-related factors. From the physical nature of being attacked at work – something I’m saddened to say has increased yet again -to the mental toll of managing threat, harm and risk, and the damaging impact of being constantly de-valued. Many officers we also know, are beginning to struggle financially.

As an association, responding to the continuing pressure and lack of value for our members, and the resulting toll we are seeing on mental health and wellbeing, we have launched a Peer support programme. As part of this, we are providing training to our members as peer supporters, enabling them to offer professional and personal support to their own colleagues. This is available to all association members from this month. Every member in need of support will have access to a trained peer, with a continuous programme in place, so that we can help prevent superintendents facing professional difficulties as a result of the demand they face.

We have also started a project to understand how we can support our members who retire after years of Service and face a starkly different normality. This can take its toll on wellbeing and our duty of care should not stop as soon as their Service ends.

In 2019, the Home Secretary formally launched the Police Covenant, something we are resolutely committed to influencing and supporting.  I am an active member of the Governance Board and whole heartedly support its purported aims. On one hand, this is a historic moment, creating a long-lasting system of support for officers, both serving and retired, plus their families and it is full of positive intentions.

We really welcome these positive intentions and have been impressed and encouraged by the energy and determination to make a difference, but this must lead to something tangible that can be seen and felt by those who need it. 

The biggest issue sits within the huge contradiction appearing between the commitments to wellbeing and the reality of police treatment on pay and pensions by the same government.  
The Covenant’s stated purpose is to provide ‘comprehensive, meaningful and lasting support to those working in policing.’

It is incomprehensible that there can be a publicised national commitment to this, whilst simultaneously preventing thousands of police officers from receiving fair pay, decided by a fair process and that keeps apace with the basic cost of living. Many of these officers have also now lost the pensions rights that they signed up to.

As a result of all these issues we ask four things of our Government:

1. We ask the Government to call upon HMICFRS to review the management infrastructure in forces to enable effective service delivery moving forward.

2. We ask the Government to constitute an independent review of the pay process.

3. We ask the Government to keep its promises and act without discrimination on the pension crisis

4. We ask the Government to give our police service priority and protection to deliver its policy intent in the forthcoming spending review; to maintain the momentum of investment which is so necessary for the future.
Finally, once again, I return to the issue of diversity, equality and inclusion in policing.

There are NO poignant statements, thought provoking reflections or damning statistics left to shock the system into action. It has all been said and yet we remain woefully behind our stated goals.

As keen advocates for valuing difference, we were supportive and encouraged to hear of the NPCC’s Race Plan of Action in the weeks following the tragic murder of George Floyd. Yet it has taken over a year to appoint an independent chair of the scrutiny panel assessing this work and to develop a plan of action.

Similarly, workforce statistics show that officers from Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups make up just 7.6% of the current workforce. An increase on last year, yes, but an increase of just 0.3%. Where is the accountability?

We’re acutely aware that our rank lacks the diversity that we desire, so we can no longer wait for action.

That’s why we have launched ‘Future Supers’, an initiative designed to support colleagues from under-represented groups at the inspecting ranks with their promotion and development journey into our association.

I am delighted to say that through work entirely led by the association, with content support from the NPCC and College of Policing, we are now supporting over 300 black, Asian and minority ethnic inspector, chief inspectors and police staff equivalents from across the country, who are being coached and mentored by more than 150 association members, each giving up their own time to help this key project.

I am incredibly proud of the impact of the association, which builds on the success of the national coaching and mentoring scheme we launched in 2017, and credit to our members who continue to do whatever they can to support officers and staff. Covid has shown that we can make tangible, incredible changes within our processes and our Service can deliver quickly. 

We need to be very careful that the Police Service does not allow itself to slip back into the slow-time progress that hampers the incredible insight and innovation that we know sits right across our workforce.

Policing, quite rightly, has been a prized, sought-after career, offering incredible opportunities for thousands of officers who dedicate their lives to it. We must ensure we do all we can to keep officers engaged and fulfilled within their careers and not be tempted to leave.

This is something we can change if we see real reform.  Why? Because police officers share a stubborn, resolute pride in what they do.

Despite everything I have outlined today, I still see and hear a police service that is incredibly proud of the vital role they play in society. They continue to drive forward, with policing partners, to keep people safe from harm. Yet we operate in an increasingly complex world where the respect for the role does not exist with certain elements of society.

It’s now commonplace to hear of police officers being continually verbally threatened, being physically attacked, and mocked relentlessly on social media. Despite this, we see them running towards violent offenders, diving into rivers to rescue people, running into burning buildings to save others, going above and beyond for the public. Quite simply – they make the world of difference. 

I would like to finish by sharing what an honour and privilege it has been to serve as a national officer since 2016 and to lead our association during what has been one of the most testing periods in the history of our Police Service.

In my first ever speech to conference in 2016, I talked through a vision of a superintendent in 2052, living in a world shaped by data, analytics and artificial intelligence. I think, and I hope that the sense of pride and passion for public duty will remain at the heart of the police officer of 2052, and if I’m honest, I believe it will.

So let’s start to change the narrative  

Let’s pave the way for a Service and a government that is more in harmony.

Let’s strengthen the resolve and drive of the blue team – by recognising our people for who and what they are.

and let’s deliver the best possible service to the public – a public we’re proud to serve.
Thank you