Vir Cantium

I'm right, you know …

Paying the (Old) Bill

As my reader may be aware, the Police Federation has reached breaking point and some officers are seriously thinking the unthinkable – strike action – in response to the government’s failure to backdate the police pay rise to September, as has been the routine for over 25 years. Jan Berry, the Federation chairman, has made a canny move with her “olive branch” to the Home Secretary. Jacqui Smith is hung either way – she can dig her heels in, rejecting the perfectly reasonable overture, and try to contain the anger of every copper south of the border (since the Scottish police have had their pay backdated) or retreat to the last refuge of the incompetent minister and blame her civil servants – and hanging your departmental staff out to dry will do your career no good at all – just ask John Reid.

Now normally when workers in the public sector go on strike or take other industrial action, there will always be some who will suggest that no-one would actually notice if a few Whitehall paper shufflers took a Friday off. It is perhaps an indictment of how the police service has been treated in recent times that someone could almost say the same of the police today – though for very different reasons. Yes, too much of police time is spent paper shuffling, but it is also true that, effectively undermanned, seemingly undervalued, and overburdened with politically-inspired cobblers like stop forms, health and safety assessments, central targets and other red tape, the average copper has less and less time to actually be out there, whether on foot or on wheels, keeping the streets safe. Safer Neighbourhood Teams have proved popular with the public in recent times, and a good, well-skippered SN team can make a difference, but many underlying problems remain nationally.

It is a no-brainer that the police should get the full backing of the Party. I’m not saying that we and the police won’t differ on issues like ID cards or DNA databases, or that the police as a collective service should be immune from any criticism (though such criticism when it comes is largely of the management – both political and senior operational). That aside, the many individual officers whose sacrifices can include family, marriages, as well as their lives, must have the support of any who are serious about improving our “quality of life”.

Finally, for now, there is a dull accounting aspect to all this. When the budgets were set for the 2007/08 year, the pay rise would have been factored in. The Home Office wouldn’t have known the precise percentage of course, so a provision would have been made at a realistic rate. Even by the government’s Mickey Mouse CPI inflation measure, something close to 2.5%, pro-rated from September, would have been calculated and included in the budgets.

So either the Home Office is in such a diabolical financial mess that desperate measures are being used to balance the books, or day-to-day financial control at the Home Office is diabolical, or the Home Office is diabolical at setting proper budgets.

Or perhaps the decision not to observe the traditional backdating to September was made a year ago when the budgets were drafted. Hmmmm.

The Home Office has been either incompetent on a number of levels, or the department responsible for fighting crime and other dishonest behaviour has been … dishonest.

Oh, and … Happy New Year!

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