The Express On Sunday: Women at war over pol ice pay

Sunday, 16 December, 2007

Now rank and file officers send a message of ill-will to Home Secretary over their pay deal

A Chief Constable has delivered a withering snub to beleaguered Home Secretary Jacqui Smith by refusing to circulate her Christmas message to the force.

Gillian Parker, Chief Constable of Bedfordshire, has instead sent out her own message to officers incensed by Ms Smith's decision not to honour a pay rise in full.

In the style of the Queen's Christmas broadcast, Ms Smith wrote to Britain's 140,000 officers: "As we look forward to 2008 I know I can rely on you to continue to meet the challenges you face and embrace the changes we are making to support you in this."

But her surprisingly optimistic view of her relationship with the police forces in England and Wales bears no relation to reality.

In her letter to Bedfordshire officers, Mrs Parker wrote: "On December 11, I received a copy of the Home Secretary's Christmas message.

"It would be normal practice to publish this message to the force.

However, I felt that the sentiments expressed were in direct contrast to her decision regarding police officers' pay and her comments and other correspondence on this issue.

"Following consultations with Bedfordshire Police Federation I have therefore decided the message would not be included in any Bedfordshire Police publications.

"I also intend to write to the Home Office to advise them of my decision."

Astonishingly, Ms Smith makes no reference to the pay dispute in her letter, although there are some allusions to the battle lines being drawn.

"As we look forward over the coming years, we need to recognise the importance of continuing the good progress we have made on efficiency and productivity in the light of a tougher financial climate, " she wrote.

"Working together, we have made real improvements across the full range of policing business and I know that this represents a significant amount of hard work and commitment on your part.

"Unlike many people, police officers will continue to be on duty, protecting the public, over the Christmas period.

"The public does not forget the sacrifices that you make and I want to take this opportunity to say thank you on behalf of the public. I look forward to continuing to work with you next year."

Her seemingly grudging acknowledgement of the devotion to the job by officers working night and day to try to keep the streets safe has come as a blow to morale when she should be lifting spirits.

Mrs Parker is not the only Chief Constable taking a rebellious stance.

Cumbria's Craig Mackey is also refusing to send out the message because he feels it would "negatively affect morale".

North Wales Chief Constable Richard Brunstrom is even offering to backdate the pay rise for which he has already budgeted, but the Home Office is thwarting his efforts. Mr Brunstrom said: "I wish to do so if I can find a legal means and the Police Authority and I are looking for one."

He accused the Government of "a shabby and dishonourable act", adding: "Why the Government has chosen this moment to alienate the entire police service, from top to bottom, over so trivial a sum of money is a matter of wonder to me."

But a Home Office spokesman insisted: "There is no provision which allows forces to implement the pay award above the level determined by the Home Secretary."

Tory spokesman David Ruffley described the Home Secretary's decision to duck the pay row in her Christmas message as "gutless".

"Most police officers will wonder what planet the Home Secretary is on when she sends them a Christmas message without mentioning pay, " he said.

"It is pretty gutless to do what she has done to the police on pay and not even to try to justify it in the letter."

He said the breach of trust over the pay deal came on top of unhappiness about targets and working methods that have seen police officers deluged with red tape.

Mr Ruffley added: "This Government is turning our police officers into form writers, not crime fighters. The amount of red tape is demoralising for the police.

"This ceaseless target culture is completely out of hand and I'm afraid Jacqui Smith is complacent about it.

She is completely out of touch with police officers.

"By giving the impression that she was going to accept arbitration of 2.5 per cent and then sneakily refusing to backdate it so it is only worth 1.9 per cent, she has given a master class in ministerial cynicism. Police officers are totally disgusted and I can't see her ever winning back their trust."

Anger among rank and file officers is growing and will culminate in a rally in Whitehall in January when there will be calls for Gordon Brown to sack Ms Smith.

Although they are not allowed to march in protest, they will turn out in mass and walk up and down Whitehall, possibly carrying banners, to express their feelings of betrayal.

There are also plans to hold a smaller rally in Redditch, the Home Secretary's constituency.

The Police Federation has already delivered a vote of no confidence in her and called for her to resign because officers no longer have any trust in her.

Some 140,000 officers are being balloted on whether they want the right to strike, but it is thought many are against walkouts on principle. The federation is understood to be looking at issues they may be asked to vote on, including whether officers should have employment rights that most other workers take for granted. Now, they ordered to work on any day of the year, even if they are on holiday.

Police lawyers are seeking a review of the Government's decision because police understood the Home Office would honour the practice of starting pay rises from September 1.

To save £30million, Ms Smith has implemented the rise from December 1, a move defended by Premier Gordon Brown because it was part of an antiinflation strategy "in the national economic interest".