Last week the POA had its annual conference at Southport. It was like no other that had taken place and so I thought that I would put forward a few points on the matter after a period of reflection. The purpose for doing so is that last year I went to conference as an observer and blogged my thoughts/reported back at the end of each session. These went down well, however this year I went to conference as a member of the Security Team and due to my duties did not have the opportunity to do likewise again.
I aim to do three posts on this year’s conference, the first is this one to do with our Investigation/Conduct Committee/Appeal process; The second will be to do with years Conference motions/business; The third will be to do with the restructuring of the POA. All 3 subjects played an important part at this years Conference.
Here are my thoughts on our Investigation/Conduct Committee/Appeal process which was highlighted because of a case at this year’s Conference:
As was eagerly expected Conference started the week with the much anticipated appeals of the 7 National Executive Committee (NEC) members (Dean Acaster, Steve Bostock, Steve Baines, Glen Birchall, Tom Robson, Bryan Traynor, and Tony Merricks). For those not in the know, these 7 NEC members had recently been found guilty by the POA Conduct Committee of breaching POA Rules and had been banned from holding any local or national office in the union for 5 years. As was their right they appealed to Conference to have the decision over turned. The appeal was heard and after a card vote, the return came back and their appeal was lost/the Conduct Committee’s decision upheld.
Consequently it was ratified that the 7 concerned were no longer National Executive Committee members.
Now as long as there is breath in POA members bodies, there will remain a debate over the rights and wrongs of this decision, my view on it is a simple one; This union of ours has rules and a constitution, all who join the union are bound by them, no matter what position they hold. Anyone who is alleged to have breached them should be investigated and due process followed (as is in place). Some say the system is flawed (or has faults), to them I would suggest that if any member can come up with a better method of dealing with the circumstances that our union faced this year, then offer up an alternative and get Conference to change the process.
One final point on the subject of POA Disciplinary/Investigation processes/procedures in general, as a result of my branches dealings with the process last year, I with my branches support, submitted a motion to this year’s conference which was supported by Steve Gillan on behalf of the NEC and carried. It was motion number 83 and read:
“That the POA Disciplinary/Investigation processes/procedures be reviewed by the General Secretary or a body appointed by him with a view to recommending to Conference 2014 any procedural improvements that can be made, in order to make the process speedier in reaching an outcome whilst still retaining the process’ integrity.”
I wait with interest, the outcome and any recommendations that come from it.
Today I received my pack for the 4 current National Executive Committee positions up for election. As usual I read the candidates election statements (including the one on the back of the last page which sometimes gets missed), made my choices, placed and sealed them in the voting slip envelope, signed the validity slip, placed that along with the voting slip envelope into the postage paid envelope, sealed it ready to post in the letter box later today when I pass it.
Total time taken:- 20 minutes.
20 minutes – that gives me the right to challenge, complain, support (as I wish) a group of people claiming to represent and speak on my behalf.
20 minutes – which gave me the opportunity to try and put in place people who share my vision for the way the POA should move, work, and represent me in the oncoming years whilst they are in post.
20 minutes – in which it was guaranteed that my choices and views because of those choices would be taken into account on an equal footing with my peers.
THE ELECTION FOR THESE FOUR POSTITIONS ON THE NEC HAS 16 CANDIDATES PUTTING THEMSELVES FORWARD FOR THEM. THE CANDIDATES INCLUDE THREE CURRENT NEC MEMBERS AND NINE MEMBERS FROM BRANCHES.
IT IS A MASSIVE OPPORTUNITY FOR ALL MEMBERS PERSONALLY TO VOICE THEIR OPINION THROUGH THE BALLOT BOX TO EITHER SHOW THEIR CONFIDENCE IN THE CURRENT NEC MEMBERS WHO ARE STANDING ON THE BASIS OF WHAT THEY PROMISE, OR TO PUT IN PLACE NEW VOICES WITH THEIR VISION AND PROMISES IN REGARD TO HOW THE UNION SHOULD PROCEED FOR THE FUTURE AND WHAT THEY WOULD DO.
Members at branches regularly complain over the NEC and yet when it comes to elections, they rarely can be bothered to engage in the process (as ballot returns show) saying what’s the point?
In this post I have tried in my own individual manner to explain the importance of and why members should vote in elections in the hope that I encourage colleagues and friends to participate in a process which will impact on them one way or another for oncoming years.
SO PLEASE TAKE 20 MINUTES, GET OFF YOUR ARSES AND VOTE IN THESE ELECTIONS – ITS YOUR FUTURE THATS AT STAKE.
This last week I’ve been up Northumberland way with my union Branch Chairman and Branch Secretary taking up the opportunity to try to secure as much new information and advice as possible in regard to TUPE due to the Government’s decision to sell us off to the private sector.
Now I have no quarrel with my soon to be new employer’s for taking the opportunity they have to expand their profit driven multi-national business in the way that they have. They would have been fools not to and I hope their take over produces the security and reward that is rightly deserved by the employees that they adopt with the business.
However the way in which our current ConDem political employers have cast aside these same (currently public sector) employees has created uncertainty and worry, which is a disgrace. The privatisation process has been going on for years with hard working staff, colleagues and friends being given non-answers through the lack of information available or provided by the management side. I readily accept that this is not the fault of local managers who have tried and continue to try to get any new information they can and pass it staff at the earliest opportunity they can.
As a result a lot of these good honest people are relying on protection they believe TUPE affords them, without still really understanding that it gives them no real long term protection, but only guarantees that a process of consultation/negotiation takes place.
There could be nothing left off the table from what I have learnt; everything could be cast under the banner of consultation after our new employers have declared their intent on our futures. Nothing that is currently in place is guaranteed to remain for the long term future, nor is there a guaranteed minimum time that our new employer has to keep anything we have in place if they can show any proposed change is justified as an economic, technical or organisational (ETO) reason. This includes subjects including changes in the workforce or terms and conditions.
Once the takeover has occurred managers currently working for the public sector will be working for the new employer (if they are kept on by them and I have no doubt that they will do whatever is necessary to make that the case) so their focus will be to show their worth by providing whatever the new employer wants at whatever cost it takes.
Though it is better to have TUPE than to have nothing, it is not all it is cracked up to be and the reality is that it will be left for local union officials to take up the challenge of the daunting task of negotiating that lies ahead when our new employer takes over. The aim of course will be to try to get the best they can for members with the support of the National Executive Committee of the union, it is not a task that is being taken likely – nor should it be.
It is not a task that was asked for, it is a task that has been imposed. For this reason local officials will need the continued support, patience and understanding of members with whatever future challenge is thrown upon us all.
No branch or national official can guarantee any future outcome and it would be a liar that said they could, but the one thing all can promise is that they will endeavour to do the best that they can for their entire membership as a whole.
There’s nothing worse than kicking those who are already down because of circumstances beyond their control. So when it yet again came time for HMCIP (Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prison’s) to have another go at a public sector prison (mine) for the failings of those who pay the same Inspectorate’s wage it could only result in one thing – no change there then.
The annoying thing about the reports produced by this stalwart group are that a lot of what they report is either dated or without substantive evidence to support their conclusions. For example the evidence used by the inspectorate includes unsubstantiated anonymous offender statements and claims which are never challenged but just accepted as fact. Only the heads of a HM Government employed agency and their political leaders would accept this standard of dubious evidence base.
Rarely do the public see this Government tool identify or address the underlying reasons for why an establishment hasn’t met its/politicians/NOMS (National Offender Management Service) expectations when reporting its findings to the public, but then it wouldn’t would it. To do so would be to highlight the real truth that even with all the hurdles /restrictions/continued cost cutting over the years. Public sector prison service provision has never failed to meet any objective it has been set and that with every accomplishment its had, Government have continued to move the goal posts of expectation further back with less support and resourcing year on year – a neat little trick that the inspectorate never refers to with any vigour if at all.
So what could be done from the union, well in reality not a lot, but saying that, nothing was not an option (a pity that our employers and managers were not of the same view). It was on that basis, that when the opportunity arose for a representative of our local POA Branch Committee to speak up for our members in their defence on local radio and TV, our Branch Chairman Paul McLennan stepped up to the challenge without hesitation.
This man who never set out looking for the world of media hype, without any advice, support or training, yet again found himself thrown in at the deep end. This man who rang me and said, Gary this is our position we find ourselves in, our managers and employers daren’t or won’t challenge the findings the of HMCIP and its report, nor support our members publicly so I’m going to do it on behalf of the Branch Committee.
For those interested who haven’t seen Paul Mclennan’s Look North interview in defence of Moorland staff and the release of the ‘flawed’ HMCIP report (in my opinion) when those who should wouldn’t, you can find it at this link as it’s not available through BBCiPlayer. There is a short advert halfway in the middle of it (lasts seconds) but persevere….. Paul did a good job in the circumstances – respect to him:http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xz3n2b_bbc-look-north-yorkshire-16-4-13_news#.UW_TzbW_toQ
As a result of that interview and what Paul said in it, I am led to believe by Paul that he later learned that a representative of the HMCIP subsequently back stepped and amended his earlier statement (though I am not aware of the exact details).
The reason for this blog post is to remind readers that doing something is always better than doing nothing and though the outcome of your efforts may not always reach the height of your expectation, but not to try at all is a crime against yourself. It is also something that we are constantly used to from our employers, but should never see from a union or its members at any level.
Take for example let’s say a local Councillor and right hand man to a local-ish MP, whose also Cabinet member of a county council with the largest of portfolio’s which covers areas that affect from the youngest in our society to the eldest, ranging from supporting them with the most basic of humane needs to the most complex of leisure, education, care and protection provision for the most vulnerable we have.
Now for someone in this position, it would not be unreasonable to expect, no even demand, that prior to any decision being made by this person in regard to any change of service provision affecting those under this councillors remit, that full disclosure would be made at the conception of the proposal, with a publicised invitation for all those with an interest to submit their representations at the earliest of opportunity within the process, along with the councillor’s encouragement to participate in any policy change/development under scrutiny or undergoing consideration of withdrawal or change of provider.
If you were of these thoughts, you would be wrong in this case and as evidenced by this Councillor’s deeds over their time in office, and their refinement of the practise of avoidance of openness, transparency and accountability for their decisions until they have no other option but to do so.
It appears that the technique is to:
- Never release any decision until the last possible minute.
- Never publicise any intent until you have to.
- Never be forthcoming with any information unless forced to.
- Only ever publish the minimum amount of information necessary at any given time to meet any legal requirement.
- Only “consult” those you think will give you the answers you want to obtain.
- If you have to, wherever possible try to ensure that any interest parties’ involvement in consultation is kept to a minimum.
- Wherever possible try to “exempt” as much information as possible from public scrutiny to minimise the risk of publicising the flaws in your argument in support of your decision.
- If a public meeting has to be held, ensure that it is at the most inconvenient time for the public to hopefully minimise their attendance at it and maximise their expense if attending.
- If forced in to taking public questions in a public forum, pretend to accept, understand and sympathise with the member of the public, then ignore what they’ve said no matter how right they were and certainly don’t act upon it but carry on regardless.
- Finally at the next Annual Meeting of the Council in May, ensure that the rules are manipulated to close any gaps that the public and the opposition party have found over the last year which have caused you problems.
Now with the last bullet point I’ve written ‘finally’ but the reality is there is a lot more than I’ve cited, but for the average reader you get the general idea. Such is the success of this technique; it has been adopted by this Councillor’s colleagues (in or out of cabinet positions) who it appears are under continual tutor-age in regard to its use by its creator.
I also have no doubt that all of them will continue to hone their skills in this technique for their remainder of time in office in the interest of their interpretation of what they believe openness, honesty and accountability requires of them whilst holding local public office.
One final point, as so much time and public money has gone into the perfecting of this technique that I thought it only right and proper to give it a name.
So hence forth I will refer to this technique as “The Waltham Way” (it’s got a nice ring to it don’t you think?)
P.s: To RW who has previously confessed to being an admirer of my “scratchings” – you’ve got to admit this one is stylish…don’t you think?
Last Friday I went to the Civic Centre (Pittwood House) to witness events at the North Lincolnshire Council People Scrutiny Panel Meeting in regard to Youth Services as I had been taking an interest in the subject and wanted to see the outcome.
So at 12:30 in the afternoon there I found myself in a group of approx 50 members of the public, interested parties and local Labour Councillor’s all watching the start of the meeting as Conservative Councillor Rob Waltham tried to justify his unjustifiable attack on North Lincolnshire’s current youth service provision and his decision to rip apart what is currently in place in favour of replacing it with an alternative private sector led service.
Three hours later, I had witnessed Cllr Waltham be proven to have inaccurate facts on what he had based his decision on, be challenged by those currently working the system as to his lack of knowledge over what they currently provide for the taxpayers money, be called to account over his costings claims and as to whether or not this was in reality about saving money, be challenged by youths themselves over his lack of consultation with them as service users in regard to his intended changes, and be challenged by a member of the public in regard to the way the whole matter had been dealt with by the Councillor. I will not go into detail in these matters as other blog writers have already published reports of events and I would refer you to these excellent posts:
Paul Rhoades Blog:
Andrea Davison’s Blog:
Steve Swift’s Blog:
However what I would like to highlight is the excellent lead speech by a member of the public Mr Ian Sharp, those youth workers who had the guts to stand up and be counted by challenging Councillor Waltham on his intentions and facts, those youths who had the guts and determination to make sure that they and their peers voices were heard on the matter, and the interventions by Labour Party Councillor’s especially those of Councillor Andrea Davison who expertise helped secure the public’s access to the entire meeting. Had she and her fellow Councillor’s Sue Armitage, Sandra Bainbridge, Trevor Barker, Tony Ellerby, Len Foster, Tony Gosling, Mick Grant, Mark Kirk, Steve Swift and Dave Whiteley not been there, then I have no doubt that the Conservative party scrutiny panel Chairwoman and Conservative party panel members would have succeeded in their attempt to try to use the law and Data Protection as reasons for why the public should not witness the full debacle that played out. As it was because of these Labour councillor’s knowledge and support, members of the public had it publicly confirmed that scrutiny panel members can waiver the public exclusion rule should they wish to do so and can’t hide behind the law without good cause.
It is only right to also highlight the efforts of the two Labour Councillor’s (John Collinson and Susan Godfrey) who sat on the panel. They attempted to have the Cllr Waltham’s decision held to account further by trying to get it referred to a Full Council meeting to allow the public, through all their elected members, a wider voice on the issue as the decision itself effected all wards throughout North Lincolnshire.
Though their motion was defeated and as was expected Councillor Waltham got his way again thanks to a panel that consisted of more Tory Councillor’s than Labour Councillor’s along with two ‘independent’ members who appeared to have lost their voices and the ability to raise their arms to cast a vote either in support of the Councillor’s intentions or against them, it should not be overlooked that something else also very important took place that was long overdue.
On a cold Friday afternoon in January 2013, in North Lincolnshire Council’s main council chamber, those that supposedly ‘represent’ the people of North Lincolnshire were called to account and reminded that though they may hold public office they are not the supreme ‘authority’ or last word on matters – those they purport to represent are.
I hope that this is not the last time I witness this happen during the current council leadership’s tenure.
30 minutes ago a relative of mine made me aware of this and asked me to pass this on. Anyone with elderly neighbours might want to think about printing it out and giving it to them so they’re aware of this scam. The more people who know about this, the less success the scammers have.
“Received a phone call from BT, informing me that he was disconnecting me because of an unpaid bill.. He demanded payment immediately of £31.00 or it would be £ 118.00 to re-connect at a later date. The guy wasn’t even fazed when I told him I was with Virgin Media, allegedly VM have to pay BT a percentage for line rental! I asked the guy’s name – he gave me the very ‘English’ John Peacock with a very ‘African’ accent – & phone number -0800 0800 152. Obviously the fellow realized I didn’t believe his story, so offered to demonstrate that he was from BT. I asked how & he told me to hang up & try phoning someone – he would disconnect my phone to prevent this. AND HE DID !! My phone was dead – no engaged tone, nothing – until he phoned me again. Very pleased with himself, he asked if that was enough proof that he was with BT. I asked how the payment was to be made & he said credit card, there & then. I said that I didn’t know how he’d done… it, but I had absolutely no intention of paying him, I didn’t believe his name or that he worked for BT. He hung up.
I dialled 1471 -number withheld I phoned his fictitious 0800 number – not recognized. So I phoned the police to let them know. I wasn’t the first! It’s only just started apparently, but it is escalating. Their advice was to let as many people as possible know of this scam. The fact that the phone does go off would probably convince some people it’s real, so please make as many friends & family aware of this.
How is it done? This is good but not that clever. He gave the wrong number – it should have been 0800 800 152 which takes you through to BT Business. The cutting off of the line is very simple, he stays on the line with the mute button on and you can’t dial out – but he can hear you trying. (This is because the person who initiates a call is the one to terminate it). When you stop trying he cuts off and immediately calls back. You could almost be convinced! The sad thing is that it is so simple that it will certainly fool many. By the way this is not about getting the cash as this would not get past merchant services – it is all about getting the credit card details which include the security number, to be used for larger purchases.”
**Please spread the word and especially ensure that any old or vulnerable people you know are made aware.**
Today after reading the Shadow Justice Secretary’s comments on today’s prison closures and his apparent lack of compassion for those worker’s and their families concerned, I have decided to give him the opportunity to give his thoughts in regard to them instead of purely trying to score political points on the matter. What follows is what I’ve sent via my MP:
As my M.P would you forward the following to Sadiq Khan as Shadow Justice Secretary and ask him to answer the question posed and then furnish me with an Email reply. I would also be interested in your thoughts on today’s events and my comments below:
The following will be published on the internet and copied to interested parties such as the General Secretary of the Prison Officers Association:
As a member of the Labour Party, Prison Officers Association member and a serving Prison Officer can I please let you know how bitterly disappointed I and my colleagues are in regard to your comments today on the prisons closure announcement. Your apparent lack of concern for the effects that this announcement has on prison staff and their families in your comments is inexcusable ( as evidenced below/taken from the Labour Party website) and thoughtless:
Sadiq Khan MP, Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary, commenting on today’s announcement by the Tory-led Government of another six prison closures, said:
“The Tory-led Government is closing six prisons with the loss of 2,600 prison places over the next three months, with no replacement places guaranteed in the short term. This is on top of the six prisons closed just to save money since May 2010.
“The public will want reassurance that there’s enough prison places over the coming years to keep safely behind bars those found guilty of serious crimes, and that enough is being done to rehabilitate and reform prisoners to stop them re-offending.
“When the Tory-led Government came to office they cancelled Labour’s sensible rolling programme of updating our prisons and have slashed investment by 69 per cent since 2010. You don’t magic new prison places out of fresh air in an instant to replace those being closed – it takes a stable rolling programme of investment, with many years of planning and construction.
“This announcement is about short-term gain, with vague commitments to the possibility of a new prison being built somewhere down the line nothing but red meat for Tory backbenchers.”
Today you made no friends for the Labour Party with those directly and indirectly affected, indeed in some cases you may well have lost the Labour Party support. Could I ask, was there nothing that you The Labour Party Shadow Justice Secretary could think of to say in your comments on the matter in relation to those hard-working loyal and dedicated HMPS prison staff and their families who today had their livelihoods and future family security ‘ripped’ apart and replaced with insecurity and uncertainty?
I look forward to your reply.
So the New Year’s with us again and for the POA and its members all the signs are that the sustained attack by the current Government will continue with their will being implemented by N.O.M.S.
As a result more will be asked and expected of the unions executive by members with full, frank and open answers having to be given in regard to ever increasing issues. Not to do so will put will increase the pressure on branch officials to maintain members confidence in the N.E.C, something which membership numbers have shown is under considerable strain at this time.
I do not say that this is the case at this time, but what I do say is that as a branch official, I find members perception of the N.E.C at this time to be one of lacking confidence in their ability to meet the members needs or expectations. Good or bad that is the truth of the matter, in recent times the most regular used remarks I hear from members when discussing the POA are that they have no faith in the N.E.C and if it wasn’t for their branch officials or the legal cover they wouldn’t be in the union. Oh! And before the die-hards reading this post say it, yes our branch committee try their hardest to promote the N.E.C and ensure that things like branch circulars are distributed to members promptly.
If anyone out their wants further proof on this matter and that it doesn’t just relate to the members of my branch, just look at any ballot return in regard to N.E.C elections. The absence of interest by members evidences that members in their droves have lost faith in the N.E.C, it capabilities and its guidance.
Another truth that everyone knows but never speaks of is that the ‘Unity’ in our union is at breaking point, branches struggle to maintain their membership levels because in reality they believe the union has failed them, any honest discussion will all the elements of our membership and not just a die-hard few will confirm that.
The past year has shown that times have changed radically for the members of the POA, in regard to the implementation of Fair and Sustainable, prison closures, the effective privatisation of more establishments, and future changes for the rest of the HMPS estate that have resulted to name but a few things. In these and other areas vast amounts of members of our union believe they have been failed (rightly or wrongly) by our leadership.
So what’s to be done? I have no magic wand to wave in regard to this matter, but I would suggest a start by suggesting to both the N.E.C and members alike to firstly acknowledge once and for all that times have changed radically and the ‘Devil’ we face has changed and is not of the same ‘ilk’ as in the past having proven to be more cunning, devious and deceitful than anything faced previously.
It is for this reason the N.E.C must change their ways in regard to the way they deal with matters, from the way they deal with N.O.M.S, lobby MPs, handle Public Relations, publicise the work they do for members on their behalf, or their mindset in regard to how the union can best protect the interests of its members (all with the membership’s support), to suggest a few areas.
I acknowledge that to a degree this is being looked into in regard to re-structuring, but the area of scope needs to be far wider and all the work needs to be done with more urgency as time is not on the POA’s side.
Also no-one should rely on any previous conference mandate alone for any decision to be made in the future. Times have changed and so have members views. Authority previously given to the N.E.C by members was given in different circumstances and conditions. Only by seeking the membership’s ‘current views’ on matters to come, will the membership gain more confidence in the knowledge that the N.E.C works in accordance with their current wishes.
As for members, they to must play their part. The union belongs to them not the N.E.C. The union is every single member not just branch officials and a few activists. Not only should the wider membership take an active and meaningful interest in the affairs of the union, they need to start to register their views on current issues of concern with the N.E.C through any of the means available to them from submitting motions for conference, directly through their branch officials or even on the POA forum.
Only by doing so, can the N.E.C give the guidance that members so often say they lack. Only by doing so, can the N.E.C know the direction which the wider membership wishes to go on an issue thereby enabling the N.E.C to lead the membership in achieving their wish. Only by doing so has any member the right to hold the N.E.C to account for their actions, inactions or failures.
I last wrote in to the Gatelodge two years ago raising this issue and warning of this need, two years on I continue to witness the POA iceberg melt through denial, apathy and lack of meaningful reform. Never in the history of the POA has the need been greater for those concerned to stand up and be counted to address this failing.
I will end by re-iterating what I said earlier, I have no magic wand to wave in regard to this matter and these are only suggestions. My purpose of this post has not been to teach others how to ‘suck eggs’ but to highlight the matter and offer ‘food for thought’ in relation to it.
I only hope it does.