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West Yorkshire Police Federation: “Let’s have an honest conversation rather than scoring political points”

2015 Police Federation Conference, Bournemouth, Dorset, Jason Bye, 19/05/15Responding to comments from Home Secretary Theresa May that the police service in England and Wales does not represent the communities it serves and must increase ethnic diversity, Chairman Nick Smart said:

Home Secretary Theresa May has come out criticising the police service again, this time around the issue of black and ethnic minority recruits.

This is not a surprise, or even a news story as we all know we need to do more on BME recruitment and retention.

So let us have an honest conversation on this issue.

All Forces and Chief Officer teams acknowledge we need to do more to attract applications from BME backgrounds and retain their services.

It is an overt priority for all of us within the service, has been for some time, and will continue to be. We all want to see a more diverse workplace that reflects our changing society.

As a Force, we in West Yorkshire Police have a number of role models from a range of diverse backgrounds. We have a female Temporary Chief Constable, (who is the national flag bearer in promoting women in policing as President of the BAWP), a female ACC and head of HR.

Until recently and his retirement, our previous DCC was from a BME background. We have a number of other senior officers from who are female or are from BME backgrounds. We actively promote diversity in the workplace and will continue to do so.

However, there are a number of obstacles that frustrate forces locally and nationally in achieving what Mrs May wants.

First, austerity means that it is extremely difficult to hire any new officers, whether BME or not,with the budget cuts.

Since 2010, West Yorkshire Police has lost more than 1,000 (or 20% ) of our police officers. With the impending Comprehensive Spending Review, we are bracing ourselves as a service for 25-40% cuts across the board. The Federation, Superintendents’ Association and NPCC are all saying that the cuts are detrimental to the service and are in danger of breaking it.

Even the Public Accounts Committee has stated that the Government does not fully understand the impact of what the cuts they are proposing will have on the service. So recruiting full stop across the broad will be extremely problematic for the foreseeable future for many forces.

In terms of being representative, we as a nation are constantly changing in terms of societal demographics. On the topical issue of immigration, the irony is that senior politicians over a number of years have admitted that they are not 100% sure of who or what groups are exactly in the UK at this time. So the service is criticised for not being representative of BME groups within society….yet the Home Office are not quite sure of which BME groups are here in terms or numbers or even what groups exist.

Again the further irony is that it is the diminishing public sector – be it health, education, or the police service – that often identifies new and emerging BME groups as they access our services for the first time. And then it is the public sector that has to put the appropriate support in place.

And is the police service facing this issue alone? All public sector agencies face this issue, as do many private sector companies. This is an issue that society in general needs to face, understand and address.

However, it is apparent due to the focus and number of ongoing initiatives, the police service is certainly doing more than most, (if not the most), to try and address the issue of BME recruitment.

And then there is the constant negative narrative that emanates from the Home Secretary every time she speaks about policing. To publicly chastise and criticise the service at every opportunity only makes the service more unattractive to BME groups and reinforces the negative stereotypes surrounding policing.

Not exactly inspirational or motivational leadership. Unfortunately, the vast majority of police officers have no trust or faith in the Home Secretary or the current agenda on policing. To use sporting parlance, she has “lost the dressing room”. The negative narrative only undermines trust and public confidence in the service.

Great deeds around public protection, safeguarding , investigation and dedicated public service are not recognised or celebrated. Police officers deliver outstanding service on a daily basis not because of, but in spite of what the Home Secretary says and the damaging cuts to policing.

The service demonstrates it is open to change and adapts to the challenges that we constantly face. Indeed even Home Secretary cannot state that the police service has and will continue to be reformed.

Is an alternative question we should ask is how we as officers should police and reflect the changing attitudes of society?

How do we best utilise and retain the services of our BME colleagues at present?

When we start recruiting again at some point how do we get the best applicants on merit and avoid tokenism?

What is more important, the gender or background of the officer who delivers the service, or is it the quality of the service to communities the individual officer delivers?

All this requires a clear focus, and a drive to make the service more attractive as a profession and career to all. It also means that we need to start putting staff first. If you look after your staff; train, develop and value them, then they will deliver the premium service to the public. It’s seems to work for Richard Branson.

Let’s have some authentic leadership and genuinely new but workable ideas from the Home Secretary, rather than scoring cheap political points and offering nothing other than criticism and a fixation on numbers.

Why not work with the service and listen to the practitioners and our communities to address this much wider issue that affects our society as a whole?

Date posted: October 23, 2015

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