1. ITV Report

The jeering of the Home Secretary did us no favours

Police Federation Chairman Steve Williams

The annual Police Federation of England and Wales conference is taking place in Bournemouth.

In an article for ITV News, Chairman Steve Williams, outlines the challenges the police service is facing and his hopes that the Government will listen to and acknowledge key issues affecting members.

This week sees the annual conference of the Police Federation of England and Wales – and I am immensely proud to say this is my conference as national chairman.

The event provides us with an opportunity to showcase all that is great about the police service, and, most importantly, ensure that the government and public are aware of the immense challenges our officers are facing.

At last year’s conference, we were thrust firmly into the national spotlight. Unfortunately, I feel, it was not for the right reasons.

The jeering of the Home Secretary was widely reported. I believe this did us no favours in the eyes of our members and policing colleagues, and the public we serve.

Home Secretary Theresa May was booed and heckled at last year's conference. Credit: ITV News

Our members feel justifiably aggrieved at the government’s reforms, which have impacted on them professionally and financially, but I feel we must now conduct ourselves in a manner befitting the office we are all so proud to hold.

However, while I hope to avoid a repeat of some of the more unedifying behaviour that was witnessed in 2012, I hope the Government will take this opportunity to listen to, acknowledge and consider the issues that are affecting our members and, therefore, the general public of England and Wales.

Delegates watch as Home Secretary Theresa May speaks at the 2012 Police Federation annual conference Credit: Press Association

I want ministers to be aware that overall cuts to the public sector have left police officers having to pick up the pieces where other services seem unable to cope.

Cuts to the ambulance service have meant that all too frequently police vehicles are turned into makeshift ambulances, with officers left with no other option than to transport casualties to hospital themselves because no paramedics are available.

It is an officer’s natural instinct to protect the public, and while we will do all we can to support our colleagues in other emergency services, our own workforce is already stretched to its limits.

The government is already well aware of our concerns around mental health provision; our members are increasingly expected to act not only as police officers, but also as mental health workers.

The Police Federation have concerns over the effect of the public sector cuts.

Officers are being left with no choice but to transport people who may be experiencing mental health issues to custody because there is no alternative available to them.

I hope we will receive some answers on how the government plans to address this issue, as it is our firm belief that custody suites should not be considered ‘places of safety’ for those experiencing such problems.

We will voice our concerns about the threat of privatisation of some police services, and the unanswered questions this raises about accountability.

Police officers are accountable to the public and the public alone, and this is the way we believe it should say, whereas private employees are ultimately accountable to shareholders.

A recent survey found that the overwhelming majority of the public do not want to see their services run by private companies – I hope the government is listening to this message.

A member of the public holds a placard at a police protest over pay and government reforms. Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Archive/Press Association Images

Much has been made of the notion that crime is apparently falling.

Putting aside the fact that crime figures are open to interpretation, I hope it will be noted that the police officers do much more than prevent and fight crime.

We attend to road traffic incidents, we assist in missing person’s searches, we provide a vital community presence; in short, we serve the public in any way we can.

This week provides a platform to raise all of these issues and more and I hope that the Police Federation can work with the government and key policing stakeholders to ensure that our officers are able to provide the best service to the public possible.