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Review of bargaining procedures in the police service

07 March
MPA briefing paper

Author: Alan Johnson, Head of Human Resources, MPA

This briefing paper has been prepared to inform members and staff. It is not a committee report and no decisions are required.


1. John Randall, Independent Chair of the Police Negotiating Board (PNB) and Police Advisory Board of England and Wales (PABEW or PAB for short) was asked to conduct a review of the negotiating and consultative machinery in the police service, to consult with the parties to these procedures, and to bring forward proposals for collective bargaining and industrial relations in the police service. These procedures are laid out in statutory regulations.

2. The current approach to collective bargaining in the police service is that some conditions are negotiable, e.g. pay, hours and leave, and are dealt with by a machinery that provides for formal dispute resolution through PNB whilst others, e.g. training, promotion, are dealt with in a consultative forum through PAB. The negotiating machineries for police officers and for police staff are separate, with the latter covered by the Police Staff Council (outside London) and through local negotiation in the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS). The PSC and MPS arrangements are voluntary, i.e. not statutory.

3. However, workforce modernisation and smaller, strategic forces require some new approaches to collective bargaining and industrial relations to take forward the Government’s modernisation agenda and to continue to secure and maintain the confidence of police officers. There will be an increased emphasis on issues such as personal performance, skills acquisition, flexible deployment and the retention of experienced officers, blurring the lines between negotiation and consultation and possibly requiring some local flexibility in remuneration packages.

4. This briefing paper concentrates upon the proposals insofar as they affect MPS and other English forces. In broad terms, the report recommends retaining the present negotiating machinery, although the arguments for retaining separate PNB and PAB structures appear less well-developed, particularly given the success of the current cross-working on police pay modernisation. However, the proposal for ‘updating’ the negotiating/advisory processes is to be welcomed.

5. In total, the review makes 38 recommendations (pages 6-8 of the report) and comments are being sought. Could you please let me have any views by 31 March 2006?

Parameters of the review

6. The first parameter is the legal status of the office of constable, which will remain unchanged. In any event, there is provision within the Police Acts and Regulations for local determination – should that be considered an attractive option - within the broad overall framework of conditions of service. In this sense the statutory nature of police terms and conditions provide certainty in the same way as the terms of a contract of employment.

7. The second parameter is the statutory status of the negotiating machinery and the report acknowledges that any changes would require primary legislation. The review suggests retaining the existing machinery, but making it work better.

8. The third parameter is trade union representation, where the review suggests retaining the present arrangements including Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) being represented by trade unions rather than the Police Federation.

Central and local determination

9. The review suggests the key issue is not so much whether decisions about conditions are taken centrally or locally, but whether the totality of conditions of service, wherever determined, provides appropriate resources, skills and flexibility to enable force level strategies to succeed. It is difficult to argue with this, particularly given the detailed nature of terms and conditions for police officers.

10. There was a consensus amongst those consulted (listed at pages 53-54 of the report) that the main negotiations on police pay and conditions should be determined centrally, but with greater local flexibility to address operational needs. This was explicitly addressed in relation to a perceived wage drift that has already arisen as a result of the ‘London effect’, with Home Counties forces paying their officers more money to retain them.

11. Operationally, it was put forward, significant differences in pay and allowances between forces could act as disincentives to movements that benefit forces, through acquiring skills and experience, and benefits individuals in terms of career development. The MPS’s intention to recruit 800 police officers from other forces in this financial year will undoubtedly reopen this debate.

12. The argument for some local flexibility, it was argued, would encourage the mix of staff in the extended police family and the ability to vary the level and nature of deployment. It would also provide incentives to address problems of retention in particular locations or of those with marketable skills, and promote skills acquisition.

13. The report proposes that some matters remain centrally negotiated, e.g. a shift from incremental progression through time served, to incremental progression by reference to competence, but would drive local flexibility by providing incentives. In other cases it might be a combination of central and local determination, e.g. annualised hours, where the principle of annualised hours might be determined centrally, but the patterns of working would be for local determination. (N.B. annualised hours involve calculating a workers core working hours on an annual basis. The worker may negotiate any kind of working schedule with his or her employer, provided that he or she meets the basic annual minimum of hours stipulated).

14. In any variation to the present arrangements, a shift of emphasis from central to local determination – the report suggests - needs to be accompanied by the development of the capacity of the Official and Staff Sides to handle local determination. Most of those consulted preferred central bargaining for core terms and conditions for this reason, and recognised that to duplicate this across all forces and authorities would not be efficient.

15. The proposal is made within the report that a fixed proportion of the pay bill should be open for locally determined allowances and other payments as Special priority Payments (SPPs) are at the moment. The nature of these payments would be a matter for each force, who would be judged on the improvements in performance that those additional payments delivered. The report recognised that any exercise of local discretion might leave a police force open to equal pay claims – a point which Police Review (3 March 2006) highlighted.


16. John Randall then turns to the issue of capacity and, given the current centralised system of determination of conditions of service, the lack of experience, skills and capacity necessary to make local determination succeed on the Official Side. Rather oddly, the discussion then turns to the capacity of forces to carry through the workforce modernisation agenda and specifically the assessment of individual performance, before stating that a more professional HR approach should be reflected in the overall management and decision making structure.

17. Turning to the Staff Side, and specifically the Police Federation, the report notes the reliance upon elected officials at a national level to carry out many functions, including leadership, governance, policy determination, negotiation and most representational roles. However, election is an uncertain process for producing skilled negotiators and this is particularly true at a local level within the Federation where the report identifies a similar level of skills and experience. The report advocates the appointment of ‘Negotiations Advisers’ covering several forces (local or strategic) to cover broader issues and ‘Learning Representatives’ for training and development matters.

18. The report acknowledges that the MPS has sufficient superintending ranks to warrant a full time local secondment to Superintendents’ Association duties, thereby ensuring the individual can contribute at a local and national level, without the additional responsibility of any operational commitments.

The negotiating machinery

19. The report suggests the current approach is strongly evidence based and analytical as a result of the independent element in managing negotiations, i.e. independent of the Official Side or the Staff Side. The current process, involving a single body that receives and evaluates evidence, is seen as more proactive. Looking ahead – it says - the negotiating machinery for workforce modernisation needs to have a role sufficiently broad to cover all conditions of service, a membership that represents all parts of the wider “police family” and methods that enable detailed issues to be pursued through short-life working parties. The report recommends that provision be made for the separate representation of the trade union sides of PSC and the MPS on PAB and ‘informal’ joint working between PNB and PSC, with the MPS having ‘observer’ status on the latter.

20. At a local level it is proposed that forces should be invited to adopt a joint consultative body that brings together force management and the representatives of both police officers and police staff, to provide a forum in which an increasing number of common issues and concerns can be considered.

PNB procedures

21. A PNB meeting reflects the tripartite nature of control of policing. The Home Office (in terms of national policy), the police authorities (in terms of governance of individual forces) and the Chief Officers (in terms of force management) all have a legitimate interest in the outcome of negotiations on behalf of the Official Side. The Associations representing police officers have federated, superintending and Chief Officer groups. This is then replicated across the three jurisdictions of England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. The Scottish Executive and the Northern Ireland Office have interests equivalent to the Home Office; and the local authorities in Scotland and the Policing Board in Northern Ireland have interests equivalent to those of the police authorities in England and Wales. There is a separate Association of Chief Police Officers (Scotland) and independent associations in Scotland and Northern Ireland represent the Federated and superintending ranks.

22. In order to avoid 50+ people debating agenda items, on the day before PNB the Official and Staff Sides meet separately. On the following day, i.e. the day of the formal meeting, the actual business is conducted in what are known as “behind the chair” meetings. These are attended by the Independent Chair, Deputy Chair and Secretary, together with the Chair and Secretary (and perhaps one or two others) from each Side. These meetings frequently adjourn briefly, to enable the Sides to consider their positions, or to take instructions. Sometimes, the Independent Chair will meet separately with each side to explore ways in which agreement might be reached. A similar approach is taken to the progressing of business for the meetings of the Committees dealing with matters affecting exclusively the Federated, superintending and Chief Officer ranks. It is not, therefore, the traditional view of smoke filled rooms and conspiratorial conversations in corridors!

23. The overall effect of these arrangements is that full PNB itself does not discuss anything. Everything that comes to it has been settled in advance of the meeting. The outcomes of full PNB are limited to ratifying an agreement reached “behind the chair”, referring a matter to the Joint Secretaries, a working group or to independent conciliation or adjourning a matter to a later meeting, to allow one side to consider further a proposal made by the other.

24. The report recommends that PNB should reform its procedures and be ‘replaced’ by a provision that formal decisions may be promulgated by a minute signed by the Independent Chair, the Official Side Chair and the Staff Side Chair or their appointed deputies in the absence of a Chair. The same provision should be made for the Federated, superintending and Chief Officers Committees.

25. Both the Official and Staff Sides would continue to hold full meetings on the day before PNB; if one or other wished to have available on the day of the PNB meeting a number of its members, to refer to them in adjournments of “behind the chair” meetings, that would be a matter for each Side. This approach would allow each side to move at its own pace towards placing more discretion in the hands of its negotiators, allowing them to operate within an agreed strategy.

Official side

26. As Police Review (3 March 2006) was quick to highlight, the report says the Official Side often appears to suffer from a lack of strategic direction and corporate ownership of its policies and suggests this is because of a diversity of viewpoints. Whilst some of these differences may become less pronounced if there are larger, strategic forces with similar concerns and a greater degree of local determination of some conditions of service.

27. Nevertheless, the report does highlight the need for the Official Side to give attention to maintaining a more corporate approach and quoted a recent example of the difficulties that arose with the tabling of Official Side proposals on police pay in late 2005. Even after a paper had been provided to the Staff Side, it was necessary for the Official Side to hold lengthy discussions to ensure that the position set out in writing would be supported by all parties.

28. The Association of Police Authorities (APA) suggested that the police authorities alone, as the bodies responsible for the provision of police services, should comprise the Official Side, with the Home Office and the Chief Officers acting as advisers to them. This view was rejected on the basis of the reasons outlined at paragraph 20 of this briefing. The report suggests the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) as an agency of the Home Office, which is being established to provide strategic leadership and advice to the police service, could take the Home Office position.

29. On the issue of organisational representation, the report reflects that ACPO is now mainly represented by senior human resource professionals and the APA is represented largely by police authority members; it recommends the APA considering if its representation would be strengthened if a part of it was drawn from the professionals who serve as Chief Executives of police authorities.

Staff side

30. The staff side is generally well organised and the different national interests are well coordinated.

Chief Officers

31. The report states that the present negotiating structure is too rigid to deal adequately with changing circumstances and that there would be merit in adopting a system comparable to that used for the senior civil service. The senior civil service structure consists of a series of pay ranges with individual posts evaluated and, on the basis of a job evaluation score, are allocated to a pay range. Within the police service, such a system would provide much greater flexibility to deal with jobs of differing weight

32. It also advocates considering if the pay of some or all of the Chief Officer ranks be determined by or on the advice of the Senior Salaries Review Body (SSRB) which currently deals with the senior civil service, the judiciary and the senior armed forces. Currently their pay is the statutory responsibility of PNB, but this could be overcome by PNB commissioning advice from SSRB or PNB inviting the Home Secretary to delegate certain of its responsibilities for Chief Officer pay to SSRB.

Supporting material

  • Appendix 1 [PDF]
    A professional approach to industrial relations in the police service

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