POLICE PENSIONS - "SOLD DOWN THE RIVER"?
On 4th September 2012, The Home Secretary announced the outline for the new police pension scheme to be introduced from 1st April 2015. Putting it mildly, there was general uproar from police officers. It was clear the majority would have to pay more, for longer, for less. The anger was understandable. The surprise was not.
In 2010 the Government appointed Lord Hutton, a Labour peer, to review public sector pensions, a review that had cross party support. In general terms his review was clear - public sector workers (& that included police officers) would have to pay more, for longer, for less. The Government adopted this as policy, a policy supported by the media and wider public opinion. How many times have we read of "gold-plated" public sector pensions?
In the autumn of 2011 public sector workers planned strikes to protect their pensions. In the run-up, Danny Alexander MP (Chief Secretary to The Treasury) announced a 10 year protection for those workers in their last 10 years before retirement. This was long before the consultation process on police pensions, long before the Home Secretary produced her reference scheme for police pensions.
Earlier this year the Home Secretary announced her reference scheme for police pensions, including a variation on the 10 year protection announced the previous autumn. Police pensions are not negotiable. Unlike pay there isn't a right to go to arbitration in the event of a failure to agree. Changes to pensions can be imposed. They only have to consult over pensions; this was the start of the consultation process.
Staff Side of the Police Negotiating Board (this includes the Superintendents' Association and the Chief Police Officers' Staff Association as well PFEW) needed to decide whether or not to engage in the consultation process over pensions. Professional advice was sought. The question was to engage or not to engage in the consultation process.
The decision of Staff Side, based on professional advice was to engage in the process to try and improve the Home Secretary's reference scheme. This was not just Ian Rennie's decision.
If the Staff Side had not engaged in the process the Home Secretary would have implemented her reference scheme including work until you're 60.
Clearly Staff Side's starting position was that any new scheme should only apply to new recruits from 1st April 2015. This was not achieved and in fairness was never likely to be achieved. Remember Government policy in relation to all public sector pensions - pay more, for longer, for less.
By engaging in the process significant concessions were obtained; retirement at 55 (albeit on an actuarially reduced pension); an extension to the protection to include officers who joined at 18 ½; and 4 years of tapering for the protection thus avoiding a cliff edge.
Did the Staff Side get everything they wanted? No, but I'm afraid that's what happens when you engage in a process.
Some have said it was wrong to engage. I fundamentally disagree with that position. Police officers would have been left with the Home Secretary's reference scheme. If people truly believe the reference scheme was better than the final scheme then I am dumbfounded. The reference scheme would've been worse for unprotected officers - work until you're 60 (no chance to go at 55).
Section 2 of the Police Pensions Act 1976 does offer some limited protection. If the Government was changing the pension scheme tomorrow, PFEW would challenge it in the courts using Section 2. However, they are not changing the pension schemes until 1st April 2015. The legislation is being laid before Parliament. Section 2 will be repealed allowing the Government to change police pensions. Please do not pin all your hopes on Section 2.
Be under no illusion, the Government can do this. They are democratically elected and Parliament makes, amends, repeals, etc. the laws. Some advocate legal action - in reality we would be asking the Judge to say the Government of the day can't make the law. The only way to stop a repeal of Section 2 is if MPs vote against. That is why we need you to see your MP.
Particularly hurtful have been allegations that PFEW officials have sold junior colleagues down the river to protect their own pensions; allegations that if they had been unprotected they would have been angrier or fought harder to maintain the status quo for serving officers. I would ask you look at what public sector unions have achieved with all their angry rhetoric and industrial rights. At what age will the overwhelming majority of public sector workers be able to claim their pension?
I joined in 1984 and I can retire in 2014. My pension is fully protected. I make no apology for that. In reality I would have been fully protected under the Home Secretary's reference scheme. In fairness I, and a great many other officers, were effectively protected when Danny Alexander MP made his announcement in the autumn of last year, months before the consultation on police pensions started.
It would have been easier for Ian Rennie and the rest of Staff Side to have not engaged in the consultation process; easier to let the Home Secretary force through her reference scheme. Then Ian Rennie could have said, "Sorry folks we did our best. We fought the good fight and we lost. She has imposed this." Much more difficult to engage to try and improve the reference scheme, but improved it has been for both protected and unprotected officers. Obviously not every goal was achieved. There is anger and bitter disappointment, but let's not rip ourselves apart.
I fully understand that much of what I have written will not be popular in certain quarters. I make no apology for that either. Members need to understand the reality of the situation. We need to manage expectations. In the long run nobody will be thanked for giving false hope.
In conclusion I ask this question - what would you have done differently?
Kent Police Federation