Police force keeps watch on sector shake-up plans

David Blunkett’s plans to overhaul the police in a bid to
improve efficiency and crime fighting ability will provide the force’s HR
departments with a major challenge over the next 12 months. By Ross Wigham

The police force faces a period of huge culture change during 2002 following
the Home Secretary’s radical proposals to revamp the force.

David Blunkett’s 10-point plan for reform, which includes introducing
performance-related pay and tackling under-performing forces, is the subject of
delicate negotiations between the Home Office and the Police Federation.

The federation, which represents 125,000 rank and file officers, is
concerned the reforms could drive down standards and force officers to work
longer hours for less money.

It is also unhappy about Blunkett’s plan to recruit thousands of civilians
as 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 under
consultation until mid-February, are introduced effectively.

Ian Todd, chief superintendent for personnel at Northumbria Police – the
only force in the country to have seen nine years of crime reduction – broadly
supports the proposed reforms, but stressed their success will depend on how
they are implemented.

"There are several big questions. We’ve got some general steers on
what’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 employ
community wardens with police powers – although he thinks there are questions
to be answered before they can be introduced.

"This may be part of the police force’s evolution, but we need to know
what powers they [the community wardens] will have, because it raises all sorts
of HR issues like health and safety and training," he said.

"I’m certainly not against the idea, but we need to know more. Who will
train them and who will be responsible for them?

"There are lots of personnel issues we have to deal with, like what the
rewards will be and where their powers stop.

"Also, what if they’re injured on duty? There’s lots of work to be done
before it can be fully implemented."

The Northumbria force has already trained 30 community wardens to
crime-prevention standard. They operate in Blyth Valley and Morpeth and they
are there to help reduce crime and have a visible presence.

They have no police powers, but wear an identifiable red uniform and are
paid by the local council.

Todd believes plans to overhaul traditional work practices are overdue. He
explained, "Speaking as a personnel office in the police, our regulations
are outdated and restrictive and the time is now right to look at them and
modernise them.

"At Northumbria, we’ve been embracing the strategic HR policies like
training, job sharing and better hours. These changes will help bring together
the strategic strands of HR management in the force."

Northumbria has already transformed the way it manages sickness absence with
dramatic results, and Todd has no doubt that all forces will benefit from the
planned occupational health strategy.

"We’re second in the country for reducing sickness. We introduced
robust 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 to
eight, 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 leaders
of the police service, we recognise the need to enhance the professionalism of
policing. We want to provide the public with a better-skilled, better-trained
service, which is properly resourced.

"The significant aspects of this programme are about the investment in
policy development, training and skills, providing a workforce to match the
complexity of the problems we face in tackling crime and disorder in such a
diverse society.

"It is unfortunate that the White Paper is rather weak on resources. If
we have to wait for the spending review of 2005-06 for investment in training
and technology, we are planning for a slow start."

Acpo is firmly behind the plans to modernise work practices and the reward
system – including performance-related pay.

Phillips said, "We also need to become more flexible in how we use
resources. That is why it is important to overhaul our approach to regulations
and allowances so the right skills can be properly rewarded and we can use our
staff to best advantage."

Fred Broughton, chairman of the Police Federation, is worried Blunkett’s
plans will hit officers in the pocket and damage morale.

Although the federation is optimistic that a provisional agreement on pay
and conditions reached at a meeting of the Police Negotiating Board on 27
December will prove acceptable to members.

It includes an increase in pensionable pay, a competency based pensionable
increase at the top of the pay scale and special priority payments for
frontline officers.

The Police Federation backs the use of neighbourhood wardens for patrolling
crime-ridden council estates, but believes there is a limit to the powers and
role that non-police personnel should be given.

Broughton said, "At the very time the Government is seeking to improve
standards, it will be diluting them if it invests powers in non-police
personnel.

"The ability to intervene in sensitive and sometimes potentially
hostile situations should only be carried out by those holding the office of
constable with all the responsibilities that carries."

The federation concedes sickness absence rates need to be improved, but
wants assurances that officers will benefit from increased support.

"Policing, by its very nature, is a difficult, dangerous and stressful
occupation undertaken in all weather, during anti-social hours and involving a
greater degree of risk than virtually any other profession," Broughton
said.

"While we acknowledge that improvements in sick rates are needed, it is
imperative they are accompanied by access to effective occupational health
treatment and speedy access to the NHS."

He does not believe that his members have anything to fear from plans for
increased scrutiny by the Standards Units.

"Monitoring performance in the force is nothing new for the service.
Results have been scrutinised vigorously through performance indicators for
years and all forces are subject to review.

"Crime and clear-up rates for individual divisions are already
published," Broughton added.

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