Chair's Address to Conference

Chair's Address to Conference

20 days ago Members News

Chair's Address to Conference

KEYNOTE ADDRESS: PFNI 52nd ANNUAL CONFERENCE 

Delegates, Justice Minister, Senior PSNI colleagues, distinguished guests and visitors.

You are all most welcome to this the 52nd Annual Conference of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland.

I want to extend a special word of welcome to our Chief Constable who is attending his first PFNI Conference since his appointment in November. And also to our returning Justice Minister who has previously attended our conference during her last tenure in the Executive.

Our new Chief Constable was with us earlier this morning but had to leave a short time ago to attend to some pressing business. He hopes we have a good, productive conference….and that I don’t hold back in my assessment of where we are and what lies ahead. As if I would!!

It was well publicised that Mr Boutcher was appointed at a time of extreme turmoil in policing and he knows full well that he was thrown in at the deep end but, according to those who know him well, he’s an accomplished swimmer!

Full of stamina, refreshing candour and tenacity, he appears to be undaunted by the rough waters that PSNI finds itself in.

Since we last gathered, you could say we’ve had a bit of a busy year. The headlines included:

A reduction in the terrorist threat from ‘severe’ to ‘substantial’ or, put another way, that an attack on our officers that was ‘highly likely’ is now ‘likely’.  We, of course, welcome this reduction, but our officers must continue to not be complacent and relax their guard and so make things easy for those who wish us and our families harm. The targeting and horrific attack on our colleague John Caldwell serves as a stark reminder to us all that policing remains an extremely dangerous profession.

We saw a self-inflicted, accidental data breach that precipitated a crisis in confidence in policing. The consequences will be felt for years to come and will ultimately cost PSNI potentially over £200 million in damages and upgrading our systems and processes. This is £200 million that PSNI does not currently have.

We finally had the landmark Supreme Court Ruling on our holiday pay claim. Advanced work is under way between the respective legal teams to try to conclude this matter as expeditiously as possible in a pragmatic but appropriate manner.

Again, the bill to rectify this will also run into tens of millions of pounds – money that the PSNI does not currently have.

A Judicial Review case we supported on behalf of two probationer colleagues stemming from the high-profile Ormeau Road controversy was successful. The Judge ruled that both the former Chief Constable Byrne and Deputy Chief Constable Hamilton had acted unlawfully over the way they treated the officers. Mr Byrne was subsequently permitted to resign and Mr Hamilton has not returned to duty after he was taken into hospital for emergency surgery. The fact that neither were subject to any investigation or held to account for their actions galled the rank and file. However, in a most welcome move, both probationer officers did subsequently receive an apology at a private meeting with the newly appointed Chief Constable.

On the pay front, once again we were at the back of the queue compared to our UK policing colleagues in getting our award paid. It took the restoration of our Government to bring the protracted pay award process to conclusion and it was only finally rectified last month – some eight months after the recommended increase could have appeared in payslips.

Meanwhile, operationally, we witnessed the continued depletion of resources and another rise of assaults causing injuries on our colleagues.

PFNI Future Focus

On the internal Federation front, we embarked on Federation Future Focus. This is a six-year strategy that will ‘develop new, efficient and more effective methods of working’ for the benefit of our members.

Change and transformation are at its heart. It will inform how we do our business and, crucially, how we respond to ever-evolving needs.

There will be improved contact and engagement with members and a new organisational design will be rolled out. Our new strap line is a clear statement of intent – we are “Putting Members First”.

Considerable emphasis will be placed on boosting the capabilities of both staff and elected Federation reps and we will embrace new methods and ways of working.

This Federation cannot stand still and Federation Future Focus signposts how we can be better when it comes to the delivery of the full range of services we provide.

This initiative is key in making sure that we are fit for purpose and our members are getting the best professional representation and services they deserve.

Delegates, you will hear more about this from our Secretary tomorrow.

Budget

It has been a year of asking if things could get any worse. Could we not get some respite from the pummelling? The answer was a resounding ‘NO’.

I can’t and won’t sugar coat it.

The PSNI budget is wholly inadequate if we are to deliver comprehensive, timely and professional services to the public we serve.

In the last ten years, the PSNI budget has declined by some 36% in real terms.

As it stands, the budget cannot even be described as a standstill allocation. Mr Boutcher submitted a business case for £900 million. The expectation is that he will get around £820 million, leaving a damaging deficit of some £80 million.  

To balance the books, the PSNI will again have to drastically pare back services.

There will have to be another reduction or even a freeze in recruitment.

The closure of eleven Enquiry Offices and withdrawing of CCTV funding is but a start.

Don’t be surprised if our estate reduces too, and that will mean station closures and upheaval and inconvenience for both officers and the public.

Less police inevitably means less policing. Response times will be impaired. If the numbers aren’t there….if resilience is reduced….then responding to calls from the public will be adversely affected.

As the Chief Constable has said, the capacity to investigate crime will be slowed. Criminal Justice outcomes will inevitably suffer for victims.

The Service will regrettably have to prioritise certain crimes and investigations. Neighbourhood Policing will inevitably continue to reduce as filling gaps in response crews will be necessitated. There will be less visibility in Roads Policing at a time when road deaths are on the rise.

Those leaving are not capable of being replaced - worryingly for our men and women, caseloads will continue to increase for all.

There will be a reduced ability to respond to ‘sustained protest and public disorder.’

The ability to support and provide an indemnity for other public services will also have to be reduced.

Abject failure

There is an abject failure to properly fund and resource policing. We felt we earned the right to expect something better from our newly restored devolved institutions.

That was misplaced confidence on our part.

Not even having the ability to stand still is a recipe for disaster for the Service. Right now, we are in the deepest resourcing crisis since the formation of the PSNI in 2001.

On the 1st May 2024, we had 6,379 officers and that included the first new cohort of Student Officers. That figure is a mere 21 ahead of what the Chief Constable says is his line in the sand for being able to keep people safe.

At best 6,379 is 1,121 below what was expected for a normal peacetime minimum of 7,500 as laid out in the Patten report from 1999. Sadly we are still not policing in such an environment some 26 years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Illegal paramilitary organisations continue to blight our society and inflict terrorism on our officers and citizens.

At worst it’s 2,121 short of the 8,500 that is actually required today following the findings from the Leapwise report commissioned by the Chief Constable earlier this year.

Slip to 6,000 officers

At the rate of departures we are seeing right now, without urgent financial additionality, we will slip slide towards 6,000 officers by either the end of this year or by the end of the current financial year.

This will make our ability to respond effectively nigh on impossible and without positive intervention, the crisis in policing will continue to get worse.

One officer per 320 of the population is wholly inadequate to meet the multiplicity of challenges that are out there. Great damage is being done and it is dangerous and irresponsible.  

The consequences don’t just affect the public. Within the Service, promotion competitions are pitched for limited numbers and specialist selection and transfer processes remain in first gear as our resources diminish. This feeds into disenchantment and without a clear timely pathway, some of our colleagues with years of experience have already exited the service for employment with less risk, better pay and career prospects.

We are being asked to do the impossible. Regrettably it’s taking a heavy toll on our colleagues who are working flat-out in the most trying of circumstances.

Our paymasters are sleep-walking into trouble.

More officers are being injured, and unable to perform their duties…

Calls for assistance are not being met in an effective or timely manner…

Our services and reputation are being degraded…

Confidence and morale are plummeting…

Too many officers are saying they have had enough…

There’s no meaningful recruitment to address the shortfall…

The slide in numerical strength is unabated….

On top of that, we have a Professional Standards Department and Police Ombudsman’s Office taking inordinate lengths of time to complete disciplinary investigations resulting in detrimental impact on both the officers and the wider Service…

There’s a worrying backlog of officers seeking professional psychological help…

And if all that’s not enough, we have seen a chasm develop between the rank-and-file and officers who lead the PSNI. Under Mr Boutcher and Mr Todd’s leadership we have thankfully seen some green shoots of recovery but, as evidenced in the cultural audit, there remains a fear culture that the discipline pathway is more likely, particularly for junior officers, than any tangible senior management support. We need our leadership to back officers, not break them.   

Bravery Awards

Our men and women continue to do heroic work in the community every single day.

At the second year of the PFNI Police Bravery and Excellence Awards in September 2023, we were told of an officer who managed to disarm and restrain a knife-wielding attacker who had stabbed a colleague in the throat…

Another Officer who risked his own life by battling through smoke and flames to save the lives of three students in a burning house…

Another Officer who, despite sustaining a severe hand injury, was able to assist a male who had been shot and stabbed, and even managed to perform CPR in an attempt to save his life.

Determination, commitment, bravery is all about us in abundance. This room knows what we do and how we serve our society. We decided it was about time we gave officers the acknowledgement and recognition they deserved by organising our own awards ceremony.

I’m delighted to be able to announce today that in March 2025, we will again be marking the selfless and outstanding work that is done by our officers to assist the vulnerable, the injured, the threatened, the abused and the terrorised. The application process will open in late summer and I ask our representatives to both promote the event and encourage our colleagues to tell their stories about the incredible work they do.

Assaults

I mentioned the number of assaults on our colleagues a little earlier.

What we are seeing is a worrying increase in officers being punched, kicked, head-butted, spat at and set upon with weapons.

They are left with abrasions, muscle injuries, and broken bones. Naturally, they take time to recover which means they are unable to carry out their duties.

The physical injuries heal in time, but the damage that is done psychologically is more difficult to treat.

Their confidence is undermined. There’s a negative impact both at home and work. Treatment is much too slow to access both internally and via the Health Service.

The official statistics are a cause of great concern.

There were 3,342 assaults notified in 2023/24. Of that total, 975 involved injury to officers. The injury total has been rising year on year for the last five years and is up over 55% on the 2018/19 figures.

Incredibly, it is probably worse as there is still an element of under-reporting of assaults by colleagues and it is something I would encourage our Federation Representatives to take back to their areas. The statistics need to reflect the reality so we can shine a light on the true extent of this problem.

I have called for tougher sentences to be handed down to assailants. I welcome the commitment by the Justice Minister to prioritise new sentencing guidelines for those who unlawfully attack those in service especially our police and emergency service colleagues.

We must have stronger penalties and meaningful custodial sentences to deter would-be attackers. They must be left in no doubt and made to think twice before carrying out assaults. We have to drive down these unacceptable assault figures.

Attackers have to get the message that a jail term or significant financial penalty awaits if they inflict injury on our officers.

Pay

Pay remains a running sore.

Delays in implementing officer pay awards are causing anger and feeding into the narrative that police pay can be put on the long finger because, by law, we’re unable to embark on any industrial action. The fact we actually got our pay award first within the public sector in Northern Ireland is lost on those who jealously look at their UK colleagues and how their processes can be finalised considerably quicker.

We’ve written again to the Police Remuneration Review Body questioning the value of continuing engagement with them.

Our core pay spines have current and historic parity with the pay award that colleagues in England & Wales generally receive from the end of September. Except here in Northern Ireland, there is no similar speedy consideration and acceptance of the award.

Instead, we have a protracted bureaucratic rigmarole on affordability involving the PSNI and not one, but two devolved government departments. Not having a Government clearly didn’t help matters but even when we did the process was still lagging well behind our UK colleagues.

Let me be clear: any attempt to break with core pay spine parity with our England and Wales colleagues would be a retrograde step. Minister, I hope this isn’t an option being considered in future as it would only serve to further devalue the work our officers do, day and daily. I fear the repercussions if we become the worst paid policing service in the most dangerous part of the UK. Our officers, like all others in both the Public and Private Sectors, deserve at the very least to be treated fairly on pay.

Politics

During the two years when there was no Assembly or Executive, we had the NIO led by a Secretary of State who, for some reason unbeknown to me, didn’t wish to engage with this Federation. Requests for meetings were ignored and last year at Conference his reserved seat remained empty. In fact PFNI have had no contact with him since and, as he has recently announced he is standing down as an MP, thankfully change is afoot.

On the 4th of July, there will be a General Election when the UK government will most likely be replaced by a Labour administration.

Irrespective of the result, we will see a new and, hopefully, more engaged individual installed as our Secretary of State. They will have a seat at the Cabinet Table where they will be in a position to argue for a larger funding allocation from Treasury.

The Service is crying out for some strong political support in London. Yes, the Northern Ireland Executive will be responsible for allocating Departmental budgets here, but we’ll see little change unless the Department of Justice gets sufficient sums to tackle the 36% decline in real terms that we have seen over the past ten years. The one-year Justice budget allocation for 2024/2025 is simply not going to reverse the damage that has been done.  

PFNI officials will hopefully meet with the new Ministerial team in due course and are fully committed to persuading them to place greater emphasis on policing in Northern Ireland.

Just as we called out the Conservatives aloofness via the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, so, too, will we hold Labour to account by its actions.

I find it hard to offer an explanation as to why our police service has been treated so shoddily in recent years. The job we do is essential and vital.

We are the most heavily scrutinised police service, often with oversight that can appear over-zealous and excessive.

Unlike many other public services, we are constantly under the microscope. Put a foot wrong, and you run the risk of a critical report from the Office of the Police Ombudsman or being made the subject of a disciplinary process that is unnecessarily protracted.

Wholly professional

Against this backdrop, we thankfully have a large body of committed people who are wholly professional and focused on service delivery. It is a tribute to them, that even with the obstacles that are placed in their way, they continue to deliver first-class services to this entire community. This is statistically evidenced in the recent reductions in recorded crimes right across Northern Ireland. But maintaining or improving this excellence will be curtailed by an ineffective budget.

Those first-class services, provided by first-class people, come at a price.

The drip-drip erosion has to end.

Too few ‘folks on the hill’ have our back the way they really should.

We want them to go to the next level….to say that we are being decimated numerically and that the money that’s allocated is insufficient.

This is a battle that must be waged in Whitehall and Westminster. Collectively, the government’s more inclined to listen to Ministers from here – although there’s no guarantee they will - than they appear willing to listen to the Chief Constable or this Federation.

We have to stretch ourselves to be heard where it matters most. Convincing Treasury and No 10 that policing here is poorly resourced and supported by Departments will be Step One.

Our members first

What we have said and will continue to say will be fact-based, honest and frank.

We must persist in this as we have no other option.

We will put our members first, we will advocate effectively and fight the battles on their behalf.

And I promise you this: we will be relentless, we will not stop until we convince the Government and the Executive to end their shameful, penny-pinching betrayal of policing in Northern Ireland and, more specifically, the men and women of the PSNI who puts themselves in harm’s way every day for the benefit of our society

Thank you.  

 

                                               

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