The following article has been submitted by a serving colleague. It reflects the disillusion and rock bottom morale within the police service and the frustration with representatives who are seen to have failed to act to support members or to prevent the end of the service as we know it.
The Police Federation of England and Wales - Representing Members or Self Interested Fat Cats?
Following recent high profile events like Plebgate, the national industrial rights ballot and the abject failure of the Police Federation to effectively counter Winsor's review, there's a strong argument that the Police Federation of England and Wales is no longer fit for purpose.
That's a view reflected by a growing number of angry, disillusioned and frustrated officers nationwide. It's something the PFEW are waking up to themselves - their recently announced 'root and branch' review recognises the fact.
But, it could be that this inward soul searching will be seen by the membership as being too little, too late - especially as this much vaunted review is anticipated to take a year to unfold and longer to implement if the hierarchy deem that any change is necessary.
On the front line, officers are asking how it is that the organisation responsible for representing them has become so detached from its members. The answer lies in the Federation's national structure, which is a throw back to before the dark ages. By way of highlighting its broken structure, it's well known that the Constables, who comprise around 70% of the membership, suffer a disproportionately minuscule number of votes in any decision making processes undertaken at national level. Neither fair, representative, nor democratic....
It's also an open secret that a handful of centrally located people hold the vast majority of the power, none of them having been elected by the rank and file. They receive generous allowances and 'pension-related honoraria payments' that leave their members with the perception that although everyone is equal, some are more equal than others. The perception from those on the front line is that it must be really difficult to fight for your members when you are not affected by what is happening to them....
But what grates most for members is being ignored, or worse, being treated like children and this is an ongoing issue. When questions are asked, they routinely go unanswered, and the recent ballot is a case in point. Even whilst the ballot was live, it wasn't widely known that a 50% + 1 voting threshold had been arbitrarily imposed, and the reasons behind that decision remain a mystery to this day. It's hard to think of any organisation, trade union, or other public or private body that imposes such restrictions on a supposedly democratic process.
Looking at the voting stats throws up more questions than answers. It looks like more than 50% of officers nationwide registered to vote. That means officers took the time to engage with the process and found a computer to log on to. So, if more than 50% registered, why didn't they all vote? There were HUGE variances in some regions between those who registered and then those who eventually voted. We know FOR A FACT that there were technical issues early on - did this stop the process being effective? We may never know. We do know officers have come forward saying that, having registered, they never received their voting email, despite repeated contact with the electioneers. Given that, prior to the ballot, Federation officials were adamant that everyone who wanted to vote would get the opportunity, their silence now on this issue is baffling. Where is the transparency, scrutiny and accountability?
Several recent national examples show our ballot up for the farce that it was. National elections recently secured jobs for Police Crime Commissioners who gathered as little as 8% of the popular vote.
The civil service union has just announced that its members are to take strike action based on a ballot that only secured votes from 28% of its members.
So just why is it that we were required to achieve a 50.1% turnout? For the same reason, many suspect, that turkeys don't vote for Christmas. Obtaining industrial rights would bring with it the opportunity to join a trade union and that would sound the death knell for the Police Federation. It's hard for the national leadership to counter such cynicism, especially when they seem incapable of communicating with their members even at the most basic level. It took them a year to organise a ballot because they said it 'needed to be credible'. Criticism of the ballot has been as vociferous as it has been widespread, but the most damning verdict was delivered by the Met Fed, who openly described the ballot as 'bizarre', stating they were 'appalled'' at the National Fed's stance. Such criticism is unprecedented and some predict is the opening salvo of a civil war that could tear the organisation apart.
Records show that the PFEW is sitting on a cash pile of over £20m, but there is scant evidence of this being used to launch an effective campaign to fight the harsh realities of Winsor. Their financial records are a matter of public record and they certainly bear closer examination. How many officers know that in 2011, £1.4m of their money was spent on furnishings? What percentage of officers realise certain fed officials receive honoraria payments and 'elected officer enhancements' to their salaries - bonuses that start at £15K per annum? So how can all of this be justified if you are on the wrong end of a complaint and the fed decide they won't pay to legally represent you because you don't have more than a 50% chance of winning in their opinion? How do such bonuses sit with front line officers having their pay cut in April, with more financial misery to follow?
Officers feel that they are effectively being held hostage because there is no alternative to the Police Federation. To access associated benefits officers HAVE TO pay voluntary subs. They then, at additional cost, get access to health care, insurances and other benefits. 99% of officers join the Fed when they sign up for service. The benefits are competitively priced thanks largely to the Fed's bulk buying power and the fact that when they join most officers are comparatively fit and healthy. To pull out of paying voluntary subs, for example with twenty years service, means members lose access to all the benefits that they have signed up to.
Without the financial support of the Federation, the fear of a malicious complaint putting an officer in court at their own expense is tangible, especially when coupled with the loss of health and life cover, which it is virtually impossible to source competitively elsewhere if you are in your forties of fifties. The fact that despite these pitfalls officers ARE withdrawing their subs should be ringing alarm bells at national HQ. Many believe that if there was ANY competition the Federation would be abandoned by its members and bankrupted virtually overnight. It's a sad indictment that many now see the Federation as a necessary evil, rather than their guardian angel.
Officers are left with what is effectively a two tier representative body. At local level fed reps represent officers, influence management and help those who are doing an impossible job. The work of these reps is often heroic and goes largely uncredited, but the bigger picture has them, and those who rely on them, hamstrung by in-fighting and petty politics, the likes of which means that, at national level, communication is chaotic and the message mixed.
On the one hand we're told individual branch boards won't share their details with each other, which means the National Federation don't know who their members are, yet at the same time officers are being 'mail shot' at home as the Fed desperately attempts to entice officers to take up various offers designed to plug the financial gap created by those leaving.
The most current example of this confusion is the constables branch website (www.policeconstables.org). Just to officially launch it and have a link to it off the main National Federation website proved an onerous task. It was heralded as the voice of the rank and file. A chance for the majority to have their say and to be kept informed and up to date with all matters Fed related. Officers were encouraged to register so the Fed would finally know who their members were and so that they could share questions and ideas on the forums found there. Typically, things started well, but soon descended into farce. Though over 8,000 PCs have registered, the site has yet to trail blaze to any degree. Months and months of questions being posed and left largely unanswered by Fed officials has left the site looking like a post-apocalyptic ghost town. The few posters left (there are a hard core of about ten) are treated with contempt, chastised and threatened with bans. The site is plagued with technical difficulties and its news section is so out of date as to make it a contradiction in terms. The largest ongoing joke is the insistence of Fed officials from within the site that they have 'a plan'. It must be a corker of Baldrick-like cunning because it has been 'a work in progress' for nearly two years and is yet to show itself. The site is a microcosm of everything that is wrong with the Police Federation, all wrapped up in one sad, semi-abandoned bundle.
This April's pay packet will bring with it the double-whammy of a pension contribution increase and the reduction in CRTP. It will be a defining moment for officers and the PFEW. Until now officers have largely only lost the opportunity to receive something that was becoming due...we've missed out on future pay rises, or the next stage of an increment rise that was on the cards. From April, for the first time, we will start to see our hard earned money being deducted at source from our pay packets.
Nationally, it isn't something PFEW have prepared officers for. It will come as a shock to many and will affect us all. There will be welfare and financial issues that will need addressing - officers should be in no doubt that this is the start of actual hardship for many. How ironic that at their time of greatest need, officers will be considering withdrawing from the Federation to try and claw back some of the cash that the Federation has allowed the government to snatch from their members.
As a Post Script, it seems PFEW are not beyond being petty either. Having recently withdrawn my subs, I have been denied access to the Constable's website forums, despite the fact that even having withdrawn my voluntary subs I remain a member of the PFEW whilst I continue as a serving police officer. If that doesn't guarantee me access, then the fact that I have paid subs up to my next pay packet does. It's a small thing, but it's also indicative of an organisation perceived by some as rotten to its core. Needless to say, emails surrounding this issue have gone unanswered.
There is little doubt that within the next six months events of seismic proportions will overtake the Police Federation. With voluntary redundancy ratified and live, compulsory severance on the horizon, fitness testing, reductions in pay for restricted officers, the possible introduction of A20 and a new comprehensive spending review imminent, it's beyond time for the national PFEW to clean house, draw a line and start again. Officers need their help and have done for some time.
Sad indeed that whilst I remain proud of being a police officer I am ashamed and embarrassed of the organisation that is supposed to represent and protect us all.