A Policeman's (Pension) Pot is Not a Happy One…
In its editorial on 3rd March, the Daily Mail stated that "this paper yields to nobody in our respect for the police. We believe it is only right that they enjoy among the best pay and conditions in the public sector."
This may come as a surprise to most Police Officers in Britain who are used to seeing the Police Service lambasted at every available opportunity by the paper, hardly known for its pro-Police stance.
Notwithstanding this opening, the Mail reverts to type by using its editorial to justify why it fully supports Home Secretary Theresa May's speech on 2nd March in which she promises to reduce Police Officer pay as this occupies such a large proportion of the Police budget.
Coming just a week before publication of two of the most savage and potentially devastating reports likely to have seriously adverse effects on the well-being, livelihood and morale of thousands of UK Police Officers, (Winsor and Hutton) the Conservative Home Secretary has opted for political posturing of the 'Peter Mandelson' style seen so often during Labour's 13-year reign.
The speech she made at Westminster Methodist Hall provides nothing of any new substance whatever. The sickly way in which she opens by 'Celebrating Police Officers' and naming two brave individuals is nothing short of the traditional politician's insincere buttering up of the audience before sticking in the boot.
Seeing her heartfelt gratitude to every Officer for doing all we do to keep her safe made me well up with pride…or was it nausea at the sycophantic manner she adopts so slickly to introduce her next subject of the need for reform?
Her sincerity continues in 'Theresa's Tough Triad' of reforms – bureaucracy, Police Commissioners and a National Police Force … sorry, National Crime Agency led by a senior Chief Constable! Yet strangely, even in the leak of the speech the day before, so little emphasis was really placed on these monumental areas of change that the tabloid press wasn't the slightest bit interested.
No, the real message of the day was to follow – 'Doing More With Less' – a phrase bandied about so much by politicians lately, they have almost started to believe the message themselves! Or in simple terms, as far as Police Officers are concerned, it is actually 'Doing More FOR Less', as all the Home Secretary was really about was delivering a message the tabloid press would love – how to cut the greedy copper's insatiable desire for overtime, claimed whenever and wherever possible, be it by answering the phone at home, or working half an hour into a rest day, or simply by the mere desire to wander about on one's beat for twelve hours or so, just to boost one's income.
The speech was really about offering an early taster as a sop to an ever-ravenous tabloid media, as they hungrily bay for the blood of Police Officers! Give them a delicious morsel to chew on, and you'll distract them from the government's poor showing in dealing with the Libyan crisis or the forthcoming bi-election in Barnsley. Oh how she was lauded by the Daily Mail and The Sun for her bold tenacity in being the strongest Home Secretary in a generation able to take on the might of the 'formidable' Police Federation!
I have every respect for the Federation and its leaders, and get quite annoyed by the ignorant chants of so many rank and file coppers who mindlessly repeat the mantra 'what have they ever done for us?' claiming they're nothing better than a 'toothless tiger'. Personally, I cannot imagine the terror of being up against a tiger without even dentures to its name, as it would still be mightier than I with incredibly sharp claws and a fearsome roar!
I am fully aware that the Police Federation works extremely hard, often behind the scenes, to accomplish much for Police Officers and is rewarded with unkind criticism instead of the gratitude it deserves.
Note though, that while the Home Secretary deals with the Winsor Review due to be published on 8th March, which she knows is a storm in the brewing, absolutely no mention is made of the Hutton Report due on 10th March! In fact the word pension does not feature anywhere in her speech!
The government knows full well that Winsor will be subject to Police Negotiating Board, and the arguments will rage back and forth, so it is prepared to face these up front. However, it has been totally unprepared for the censorious wave of criticism over Police Pensions that now threatens to sweep over the Home Office tsunami-style.
When Lord Hutton's interim report in October 2010 indicated most strongly to the Chancellor that his best means of making short-term savings would be to increase public sector pension contributions, I began a campaign which, to be honest, I never imagined would impact as massively as it has.
After writing to my MP, I felt it would be good to encourage colleagues living in the same constituency to do the same, and he has since been bombarded by over 50 letters on the subject! That fantastic response spurred me on to create a website – www.NigelTompsett.com – to provide as much information as possible and to largely encourage colleagues around the country to write to their MPs.
From there the Protect Police Pensions campaign was born and a Facebook campaign followed a few days later on 2nd January and within one week, 2000 supporters had joined! We're now up to almost 14,000 supporters! Twitter has also proved extremely useful in spreading the word.
Consequently I was invited to meet the Police Minister Nick Herbert MP on 2nd March at Westminster, and we had a fairly robust debate for 45 minutes. He had felt concerned enough to bring along two civil servants for technical advice and minute taking… Although we found no common ground, I would have been surprised had a Minister of the Crown given way that easily at the first meeting.
It was nonetheless an interesting development in a two-month old campaign between a neighbourhood Sergeant and a Minister!
I was particularly insulted not only for myself, but on behalf of my colleagues throughout the service, when Mr Herbert, referring to his two civil servants, implied that we are all in it together and no-one in the public sector, himself included, would like to see an increase of 3% in their pension contributions.
How dare the Police Minister equate Police Officers with civil servants! Do civil servants have to wear body armour at work? Do they routinely miss school nativity plays and parents' evenings and their children's birthday parties? Worse, do they routinely face death in violent or tragic forms? Do they face up to vile, nasty, evil people who are intent on causing them harm? Do they face being severely injured at work because of the nature of their job? Are they abused, verbally and physically, just because of what they are? Do they spend hours tramping across a dark, dank, boggy marsh to look for someone's suicidal relative, or spend hours babysitting a mentally ill person while an assessment is carried out? Do they see shocking results of children abused and scarred by vile adults or the victims of drunkenness and drug abuse?
The worst injury a civil servant is likely to face at work is a paper cut or a burn from a hot coffee cup!
Mr Herbert then had the audacity to pump out the line that Police Officers should not be exempt from a pension contribution increase because we retire earlier than everyone else with a very good pension which we claim for longer!
I asked him if he really wanted to see a 64-year-old man suffering with diabetes, rheumatism, arthritis or heart disease turning up to his house to deal with a knife-wielding thug who had robbed his mother, or chasing a 19-year-old burglar down the street, or turning up outside a nightclub to break up a fight of a dozen drunks?
That is why we already pay such a huge proportion of our earnings into a pension, which we need to claim at a relatively young age, in order to provide a decent future for ourselves, often after being burnt out by the stress of continual shifts and Police work or through the injuries received serving our country.
The Minister then had the nerve to talk about the Armed Forces who are rightly being protected from pension increases as they are fighting a war that isn't even their own! I quickly reminded him that every single day, there are Police Officers up and down this country defending the safety of our streets, putting their lives on the line, risking injury and abuse, maintaining peace and order, and occasionally even paying the ultimate price or suffering life-changing injuries.
Mr Herbert made it clear that he sees no case whatsoever for the Police to be exempt from a 3% increase in pension contributions. Shame on you, Minister! Be assured that the fight is not over; the battle is just commencing. The wrath of Police Officers nationwide is being fanned to more than a mere flicker; a flame to match the Olympic beacon is being lit, at a time when the government needs more than ever the goodwill of Police Officers with all that lies on the horizon! You may feel proud by removing SPP, CRTP, and overtime to save £180million from a mega-billion pound deficit to gain a few brownie points with the Chancellor and placate the clamouring media; you may however, live to regret failing to recognise the uniqueness of the British Bobby and the special place we are held in the hearts of the people of this nation.