Wednesday, March 02, 2011

I'm so angry I can't think of a smart pun for this title

So Home Secretary Theresa May announces that police officers need to accept pay cuts or job losses will ensue. Like the rest of the public sector, the police already faces a two-year pay freeze that will save £350m. But an independent review by the former rail regulator Tom Winsor, due next Tuesday, is expected to recommend a radical overhaul in police pay and conditions. Interestingly Ms May has already hinted at what the overhaul will consist of ... before the review is published.

'Up and down the country, police officers and staff I speak to – as well as ordinary members of the public – say they would prefer us to look at pay and conditions rather than lose thousands of posts', she says. Well, of course they'll say that if those are the only two options on the table you silly woman. It's like asking 'Which is your favourite turd?' from a choice of two. At least there is a choice I suppose. Other public sector workers aren't so 'lucky'.

Meanwhile, there are lurid stories circulating in the gutter media about police officers earning £50K+ in overtime ... What? Who? Where? How? Most cops earn well below the £40K tax threshold and overtime is squashed pretty ruthlessly by local management keeping a tight rein on budgets (budgetary control is essential if you want to get promoted). These officers - and I can't believe that there are more than one or two out of some 140,000 officers nationwide - either have complete wankpots as managers or they're doing some very specialised undercover work that requires them to be on duty for long hours or extended periods without any days off. Still, nice to see that the media is once again behind the Bobby on the Beat. Those overtime stories, even if they don't turn out to be quite the piss-take they seem, have done their work. No doubt the public thinks that all cops screw their expenses just like the MPs did.

Except that ... cops don't get expenses. They don't even get paid a shift allowance despite many of them having to work punishing shift patterns and night duties that totally fuck up your metabolism. They don't get any kind of 'danger money' either despite putting their lives on the line for strangers pretty regularly. Ms May has saluted the Met's single patrolling policy - where police officers patrol singly rather than in pairs - as good use of resources. Of course, what she doesn't talk about is the rising number of injured police officers (particularly women) who cannot control rowdy drunks. Or the allegations of assault, sexual assault, improper police procedure or bad behaviour that officers get now that they have no corroborative witness. Sad to say, it won't be too long before the first single patrolling officer is killed. And it will probably be in one of the constabularies where calling for help may mean waiting for an officer 20 miles away to arrive.

Cops get paid a reasonable working wage that is actually significantly lower than the average Tube train driver's. Oh yes, I should mention that cops aren't allowed to have a Trade Union and commit a criminal offence if they strike. They also work for a living; real, physical, often dangerous work. It used to be a job for life, or for 30 years at least. That's apparently under review too. Cops on short-term contract? Excellent. Won't they be knowledgeable and well-trained?

I thought it might be interesting to do a comparison between a police officer on the street and an MP. Let's see:

Wages

A brand new Police Constable earns £23,259. They get regular increments until the 10th year when the maximum of £36,519 is reached. After that, the only way to get extra pay is by promotion. An Inspector reaches their top salary of £50,751 after three years in the rank. Ranks above Inspector are generally no longer involved in street duties.

A brand new MP starts with a salary of £65,738 rising to £134,565 if they get into the cabinet.

Expenses

There is no limit on the amount of travel expenses MPs can claim - but it is subject to certain rules. They can claim business class air fares and first class rail travel for parliamentary business within the UK and up to three visits a year to European institutions, as well as up to 15 return journeys a year for spouses or children. MPs can also claim for staff travel - up to 12 return journeys a year between Westminster and their constituency. Overall MPs claimed £4.5m in travel expenses in 2010. If they drive, they can claim 40p a mile for the first 10,000 miles then 25p a mile, cyclists get 20p a mile while motorcyclists can claim 24p a mile. These rates can be claimed for journeys between Westminster, their constituency and their main home.

An MP has an 'Additional Costs Allowance' worth up to £23,083 a year; MPs can claim up to £250 on any 'allowable' item - such as workmen's bills - without showing a receipt, as well as up to £400 a month on food - again without a receipt. This figure was reduced to £25 in April 2010. Other costs, which can be claimed back but require receipts, include mortgage interest payments, rent, hotel expenses and refurbishment. There is also an Incidental Expenses Allowance worth up to £21,339, that is aimed at costs incurred in the course of an MP's duty - such as accommodation costs, office equipment and supplies. MPs can claim up to £90,505 per year to employ staff. There are currently no rules to stop MPs employing their spouse or other relative and paying them using the staffing allowance; indeed well over 100 are known to do so.

IT equipment is centrally provided and maintained. The standard package available for MPs is three PCs, printers and scanners worth about £3,000. And a Communications Allowance introduced in 2007 allows claims of up to £10,000 a year 'to assist in the work of communicating with the public on parliamentary business'. It can be spent on things like regular reports, constituency newsletters, websites and contact cards. It cannot be spent on party political, fundraising or election campaigning.

Police officers get no allowances. When I joined 30 years ago we got discounted dental treatment and prescriptions, a boot/shoe allowance and women got a stocking/tights allowance. All of those were taken away by MPs and, without a union or the right to strike, there was nothing anyone could do to stop it. The only concession left is that, in London at least, officers get free travel on tube trains and buses. However, the expectation is that, even off-duty, officers will become involved in incidents. I have many, many times. In my final five years, we were also allowed free travel on main line trains for up to 80 miles from any London terminus. Not First Class like MPs of course. And it was not a freebie either. The Met Police had to pay a substantial lump sum to the train operators. The fact that London property is so expensive means that most cops commute. The Met was losing recruits to other forces where police wages were the same but property prices were lower so had to do something desperate to retain staff. In the current wave of cuts there is talk of this 'concession' being removed.

Cops don't get a petrol allowance for driving to and from work as MPs do. And, interestingly, if a cop is arrested for drink driving he/she will usually lose their job as well as their licence. Sometimes they may be able to keep it if they can argue extenuating circumstances and will probably incur a penalty within the service such as loss of pay or demotion in rank. If an MP gets arrested for the same, they can claim expenses for a driver and a petrol allowance.

Pensions

MPs can choose to pay 11.9%, 7.9% or 5.9% of their pay into a pension scheme. This is paid out from the Treasury and is very secure because the scheme is unlikely to go bust or be misused

Police officers pay 11% of their wage into a similar scheme. The government is currently trying to scrap the existing police pension and make officers take out less-secure private pension schemes.

Working hours

MPs can work long hours - sometimes up to 100 hours a week. They can work late into the night and weekends. One day per week should be spent in their constituency. They do, however, get three weeks of paid holiday over Christmas and an 83 day paid holiday during the Summer. They may work during that time but are not obliged to.

Police officers work a 40 hour week and start with 22 days of paid holiday a year rising to 30 days after 20 years in service. A cop on shift work gets only 14-15 weekends off per year and works a regular pattern of early, late and night duty shifts. Officers do not automatically get Bank Holidays off work as these are often the busiest times. At present they are compensated with double pay. The Home Secretary has suggested that this be scrapped.

I could go on but it will just turn into what appears to be a jealous whinge. I don't want it to read like that. Good for you MPs - if I was smart enough I'd be one too and enjoy all the benefits that you do. But I absolutely KNOW that I'd also have a social conscience; that I couldn't demand these kinds of cuts and sacrifices without doing something myself. At the moment Cameron's 'we're all in this together' Big Society seems to be horribly lopsided. The rich don't seem to be making any concessions at all. And the people who supposedly lead us are saying, 'You need to make sacrifices - we don't'.

The one thing I really don't want to see is fewer police on the streets. But a police service of maudlin, angry and hard-done-by coppers is almost as worrying a prospect. They're hardly going to go that extra mile for us when panicking over whether they can pay their rent/mortgage, afford to travel to work or whether they'll get beaten the shit out of by a gang of drunken louts when they have to single-handedly deal with an affray. And especially when they see the very people who've taken their money away swanning around in chauffeur driven cars and happily voting themselves another pay rise. Who in their right minds is going to join the police service of the future? What's the incentive?

I was a cop for 30 years. I was proud to be a cop. But if I was an MP right now, I'd be ashamed of myself.


Note: Even as I wrote this, my attention was drawn to the new guidelines for MPs' pay and conditions drawn up in the wake of the expenses scandal. Here's the current parliamentary guide. Incredibly I see that some of the allowances - such as the staff allowance - has gone up! Absolutely outrageous.

Oh, and do see also my previous rant about how the Police could make cuts here.

1 comment:

Just zis Guy, you know? said...

Are we to be policed by the lowest bidder? In order to bail out the wunch of bankers who have raised two fingers at the government when asked to pay back even a small part of their stratoshperic bailouts?

Rude words spring to mind. Very rude.