Police morale is a real issue

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Police morale is a real issue

The results of a survey of officers in Avon and Somerset, reported in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph, have again raised concerns about police morale. The poll of 1,400 officers, part of a study carried out by the University of the West of England (UWE) in conjunction with the Police Federation, found that 51% said they “would consider looking for alternative employment”, while 95% said that they had no confidence in government plans for the police. Only 5.4% think that the morale of their colleagues is high.

This echoes previous concerns about police morale. Last November, for example, former Met Commissioner Lord Stevens, now leading the Labour-sponsored Independent Commission on the Future of Policing, said that we currently have “a national crisis of morale”. This statement was based on a survey of officers which found that 56% were “currently giving serious thought” to leaving the police. The Superintendents’ Association has also warned the Government about morale, while a survey of officers in the Metropolitan Police found that “morale is currently low across the organisation”. Even Bill Bratton said last year that morale in the Met is “awful”.

Why is this? Based on their survey and some supplementary focus groups, the UWE study points the finger at the Winsor review of pay and conditions – only 2.5% of officers think that the recommendations of the review are fair – and identifies changes to pensions and the retirement age and privatisation as the issues of most concern to officers. The survey conducted by the Stevens Commission also found widespread dissatisfaction with the Government’s police reform agenda, with one officer saying: “Every now and then police morale is reported to be at rock bottom. The situation with current pay and pensions has made this a reality”.

This is no surprise and it is also nothing new. As Hugh Orde put it last year “morale has been at an all-time low every year since I joined in 1977”. Morale is clearly an issue though, so what can be done to address it? The Government is clear that there will be no backtracking on the substance of the Winsor reforms or on cuts to officer numbers. But there are some signs that the Home Office thinks that changes to policing have gone far enough. Theresa May is reportedly fighting hard to avoid further cuts to the Home Office budget in the next spending review, while the police have been protected from the 1% cut to the department’s budget for 2013-14 announced in the Chancellor’s Autumn statement. Compulsory severance also appears to have been kicked into the long grass.

Whether or not this will be enough to boost officer morale is questionable. PCCs will have a role to play in galvanising the officers in their forces and making them feel valued, while Chief Constables and other senior officers need to address the fact that the Stevens Commission’s survey also found that officers do not feel well supported by senior management. At a time when new Chief Constables are being appointed in many forces, and the relationship between PCCs and senior officers is developing, effective and inspiring leadership throughout the police service will be more important than ever.