Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 608 - 619)

TUESDAY 10 JUNE 2008

MR PAUL MCKEEVER AND MR IAN RENNIE

  Q608  Chairman: Mr McKeever and Mr Rennie, thank you very much for coming to give evidence today. We did not have an opportunity, first of all, of congratulating you on your election as Chairman of the Federation, but, also, saying goodbye to Jan Berry, who has given evidence to the Committee on many, many occasions. Would you pass on our best wishes to her in her retirement, following her holding the office? I gather she is planning a long holiday with the Home Secretary. Is that right?

  Mr McKeever: That is the first I have heard of that, Chairman, but, yes, it will be my pleasure to pass on those sentiments to her.

  Q609  Chairman: Thank you. I wonder if you could, first of all, react to the news we have just received from the High Court that the Federation has lost its bid to get the Government to accept the arbitration award of last year, a bid that was supported on the High Court action but the Federation's case was, of course, unanimously supported by the Federation. What are you going to do next on this issue?

  Mr McKeever: We are, clearly, very disappointed with the decision from the High Court. We are actually meeting with the other members of staff side on Thursday and, also, with our legal team as well, and we will decide where we go from there. We have been granted leave to appeal if we want to follow that route, and we have to take that up within 14 days. Clearly, there are other issues we have to address as well. Just to reiterate: we are disappointed with the decision. We understand the judgment and why it has been brought in, but it clearly was not the judgment that 140,000 of our members were looking to receive.

  Q610  Chairman: As you know, the Select Committee did write to the Home Secretary asking her to accept the award last year.

  Mr McKeever: Chairman, we are most grateful for that as well.

  Q611  Chairman: Have you started your negotiations over the current year's pay award?

  Mr McKeever: Yes, we have. The pay round started sometime ago and we are in negotiations at the moment within the Police Negotiating Board with the Official Side, and that has started already.

  Q612  Chairman: The subject of today's inquiry is new technology. Of course, your members are at the very forefront of the use of new technology. We have had a lot of Chief Constables and we have actually had your members here—we had a custody sergeant from Ealing who came to give evidence to us—but it is your members who will be operating new technology. In your written submissions to this Committee you talked about the need for an integrated system across all the various authorities, and a system that was integrated to the criminal justice system. What exactly did you mean by that?

  Mr McKeever: At the moment we have a fragmented system, not just through the criminal justice system but across the UK Police Service as well. We would like to see a single system throughout the United Kingdom. Criminals do not stay in one force area, they move from force area to force area, and we would like the facility to be able to put in one single name at any point in that system and find out what is happening with that individual with their case or cases. We do not have that at the moment and we would like to see it in the future. From point of arrest through to the custody system through to the administration system prior to being sent to the CPS, and then from the CPS on to the courts and, hopefully, to the Prison Service as well. That is the line we would like to see at the moment.

  Q613  Chairman: Are there particular areas that you think should be prioritised? We have taken evidence from people from BlackBerry and Airwave today; it is obviously an expensive process and it is a big process, as you have outlined. Is there a particular area that you would like to see prioritised?

  Mr McKeever: We would like to see more central control over the actual contracting of some of the systems that are being introduced. There is fragmentation around the country and I think people have already alluded to the fact that some forces, perhaps, do not have the resilience or resources to contract as they should, and perhaps that should be done centrally—for best value, for a start, and, also, to get that standardisation across the piece.

  Q614  Gwyn Prosser: Mr McKeever, you might have heard the previous witnesses when they were asked about ways of speeding up the implementation and adoption of new technology. The Chief Constable of British Transport Police talked about earlier planning connected with funding, and our colleague from Bedfordshire Police said it is all to do with individuals and more engagement with individuals. What is your view? What is the view of the Federation?

  Mr McKeever: I think that both, in part, are correct in what they say. We feel on occasions that the practitioner's voice is not heard enough in the implementation of some of the systems. They are the people that are going to be using the devices, or the kit, that is actually out there, and the police officers should be asked what is actually workable and what is not. One of the interesting features of the Police Federation conference recently was we had Mr Bobbett come along and he appeared to be a little surprised by some of the failings within the Airwave system that were pointed out to him by practitioners on the ground, particularly from the Metropolitan force.

  Q615  Gwyn Prosser: Do those voices get heard? Does that go back up the line?

  Mr McKeever: They are being heard now. They were not heard, I think, certainly up till conference, but I know that Mr Bobbett has made efforts to speak to the particular officers individually and to address their concerns. That is encouraging. One of the problems is that those implementing the systems on the ground, or within forces, are not themselves practitioners and they do not fully understand the operational necessities and needs of the police officer on the ground, and perhaps on occasions they make assumptions. To involve the practitioner at the basic level and right way through the system would be beneficial because there are solutions out there, and that is something that one or two of my colleagues, again in the Metropolitan service, have found out once they have probed Mr Bobbett and some of his colleagues. That was not something that was apparent when they tried to address it in-house within the Metropolitan Police Service.

  Q616  Mr Winnick: In your written submission you state that while the number of individuals applying to be police officers appeared to outweigh the number of vacancies available, "there is" (and I quote from your brief) "still a gap in our understanding about the quality and consistency of applicants to the force". So, does that mean that those who are applying in many instances are not suitable for the police?

  Mr McKeever: I think we do not know. We do not know. It appears that there are not records kept of those who do not make it into the force. We have the records of those who do join the force—they are there and they are on record—but we do not know what standard of recruit is failing to get into the Police Service. That is the point that we are trying to make in relation to that sentence. I had to read it twice myself when I read through the evidence before coming here today, so I can understand, Mr Winnick, why you are picking us up on that. However, it does appear that there is not good record keeping in relation to those who fail to get in the service, so we are not sure how deep the quality is of those applicants who are applying.

  Q617  Mr Winnick: What about those who are actually approved and become police officers? Do you feel the quality has gone up or down or is consistent?

  Mr McKeever: That would have to be a subjective opinion, I think. If you ask any police officer who has served for 30 years, like myself, it was always better 30 years ago. Clearly, the high point was when I joined the Police Service—

  Q618  Mr Winnick: Everything was always better before—we know that!

  Mr McKeever: I am unwilling to make a subjective judgment on whether recruits are better. I am certainly very impressed by some of the young officers and new recruits to the service, and they have my complete support in what they are trying to do.

  Q619  Mr Winnick: The Chairman has already made reference to police pay, but clearly—whatever the rights and wrongs of what has happened very recently (and you know what the Select Committee decided to do)—it does appear that police pay is not a disincentive to those wishing to join the police force.

  Mr McKeever: It appears to be on the surface, but unless we have that further evidence to say who is not getting into the service we do not know how wide that band is of people who are trying to join, and how suitable they are. It may be that there are very few suitable candidates applying and they are the ones who are getting in; it might be it is much broader and there are many good candidates coming forward. Until we actually get that evidence it will be hard to say.


 
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