Insights from the UK and beyond
A policeman’s lot
Judging from views expressed by many delegates who gathered in Bournemouth for the Police Federation’s annual conference, it is a refrain that is appropriate for Britain’s bobbies today.
“The sergeants of England and Wales are not happy,” said Paul McKeever, chairman of the Federation’s sergeant committee, as he began his speech before delivering a damning verdict of Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s government.
Brown was a “Mr Bean” figure he said, borrowing the scathing reference from Lib Dem MP Vince Cable, a “bean counter” who had broken the trust between government and police officers over the decision not to backdate a pay rise recommended by an independent panel as expected.
“How feckless, how incompetent and how very imprudent Gordon Brown must have been to get us into this dreadful state, McKeever went on, before reminding his colleagues that Brown has registered the fastest fall in popularity of any British Prime Minister.
It was hardly surprising that Home Secretary Jacqui Smith bore the brunt of the resentment over pay when she faced the delegates. A brave decision, said Jan Berry, the Federation’s chairman, but not one that spared her from ridicule or mockery.
But it wasn’t just pay that had got the delegates’ heckles up. The growth in the number of community support officers (PCSOs) — officers who have less training and fewer powers than full police officers — was another issue arousing strong feeling.
Smith was greeted with jeering and laughter when she suggested that the public would be as happy to have a PCSO as a proper bobby on the beat. Berry said her members feared that it could mean proper officers only dealt with confrontational issues, “a paramilitary force and one fundamentally different from the concept of policing by consent”.
Berry continued: “The inept management of modernisation is nothing short of a scandal.”
Despite the anger directed at the government, perhaps the recipient of the greatest derision was Richard Bobbett, the Chief Executive Officer for Airwave, the police’s radio communications system.
It often didn’t work properly in London, didn’t work at all in the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff — just making a “beep, beep” noise, and radios needed to be put in plastic bags if it was raining, delegates told him.
Alan Gordon, Police Federation vice chairman, said he suspected it would struggle to even cope with “a well-attended village egg and spoon race”.