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PSA Conference - Presidential Address

PSA President Paul Fotheringham delivered his presidential address at the 2023 conference of the association on Tuesday 12th September.

The address was delivered to Policing Minister, the Rt Hon Chris Philp MP:

Minister, colleagues, and guests.  A warm welcome to the 2023 conference of the Police Superintendents’ Association. 

It’s a pleasure and an honour to stand before you today as president of an association of which I’m so proud, and to bring together our members, guests and speakers once again. 
The theme of this year’s conference is trust and confidence, fairness and support. 
A theme that each of the organisations that make up our policing system impact on daily. All of these organisations are represented at our conference, and I thank them for their participation.   
To welcome the Policing Minister Chris Philp, Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper and Sir Mark Rowley on what is the 1st anniversary of his appointment to commissioner, is important, as we consider the issues that are impacting the health and wellbeing of our people, and the relationships between the public and the police, and the police and government. 
The challenges our service faces today are stark, but I want to strike a balance in the limited time that I have today and do what I fear is lacking in conversations about policing.  I want to highlight the good whilst we also reflect on the areas where we so clearly need to improve. 
Does policing need fixing?  Yes, I believe so, but it also needs celebrating. We must not forget that. 
The policing system is a complicated structure when you consider its size, influence and sheer complexity. 
A huge amount of people, a huge amount of money – all with the same fundamental goal of making our service the best it can be. So, what has led to the state of policing we see today? 
And when I say ‘the state of policing’ – I mean both where we excel and where we need to get better.  
Let’s start with the good. 
Each year, our conference takes place after the annual Police Bravery Awards.  What a wonderful celebration of everything our service is about. 
Every single officer nominated deserves to win and every member of the public deserves to know the lengths their police will go to, to protect them, so starkly illustrated by the loss of our colleague in Nottinghamshire who gave his life to help someone.  Our sympathies are with his family, colleagues and loved ones. 
Baroness Casey recently uncovered some of the most awful things about policing that any of us will ever read, but she also said ‘policing attracts the best of humanity’.  I agree and we must celebrate this. 
Very recently, I attended the National Memorial Arboretum, laying a wreath in memory of the colleagues who have lost their lives in the line of duty. The effort and dedication that has been given to forever valuing the memory of these officers is a reflection of how we, as officers, feel about our colleagues and our role as constables.   
This evening I’ll have the honour of presenting the annual president’s awards.  When considering the many nominations, I read about superintendents who have dedicated decades of their lives to their communities.  A superintendent who leads the busiest under cover policing unit across the service and has led operations that identified hundreds of offenders and safeguarded many children at risk of sexual abuse.  Another that built a countywide network to safeguard children at risk of exploitation, another that led the hunt for the man responsible for killing a 9-year-old in her own home. We also now know of the incredibly challenging and complex investigation into the multiple murders of infants committed by a nurse.  These are all deeply upsetting cases, led by superintendents and their teams, who are earning the respect of our communities by doing everything they can to deliver justice on their behalf.  

People who, along with their colleagues - are working to earn back the rightful trust and confidence of our communities, and to change our workplace cultures for the better. 
The first ask of my speech goes to all – help me, and others in sharing our successes.  Let’s be proud of our people and share their incredible achievements. 
These outstanding efforts are taking place against an uncomfortable and challenging backdrop. 
Trust and confidence extends to many things.  To me, it means the trust and confidence the public have in us – their police, but also the trust and confidence we, as a service, have in chief constables and in our political leaders. I would argue these are equally as important. 
Much of this damage has been caused by the spotlight on police atrocities in recent years – acts that can never be condoned or forgotten. They are inexcusable, they are horrific, and I apologise to anyone that has been harmed or mistreated by a police officer.  These people are a disgrace to our Service. 
But what else has changed in policing to take us to this tipping point in public confidence, and in turn, policing’s confidence in government

Let’s consider some of the key points. 
The policing system. 

Next year marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the 43-force structure.  
We’re working within an archaic framework that is so rigid in its structure that positive change is likely years away, and it is hampering our ability to do the best by our communities. Crime does not know or respect the boundaries we have imposed through geographical lines, and the power invested in individual chief constables comes with understandably localised priorities that are often at odds with what is best for a national service.   
Surround this 50-year-old structure in a criminal justice service that has been left to break down  by a chronic lack of resourcing, and we can see why the public are so often left to think nothing but the worst of the police and justice system that is there to serve them. 
Going wider in the system still and public services are almost battling for the title of ‘most under funded’ in their cries for help. All will quickly pass on their demand to someone else, intentionally or otherwise, if there is someone else who will take it.  That is, of course, so often the police. 
We’re working hard to address this.  Examples such as Right Care, Right Person, Operation Soteria, and dedicated domestic abuse courts are clear examples delivered by our people.  We have the skills, the innovative thinking and the desire to change things for the better, and when we have the buy in from those with power. We see progress. 
I am pleased to have a policing minister who appears interested and keen to push through change at a rate we are not used to seeing from our government. I must however question whether the government is addressing the fundamental, critically important issues at hand. 
Our service moves at the whim of others, often directed by government. We must strip back services when our funding is cut, we change our focus when a new priority is mandated. We cannot speed up charging decisions that do not sit with us, and we can’t turn the phones off.  
Tackling our challenges is impossible without government support. However, every person in this room could identify where major national decisions have been made, perhaps without full collaboration with the service, and negatively impacted on our effectiveness.  

• More than 30,000 people were taken out of policing from 2010, with funding cut to such extremes, that Baroness Casey described the Met as being ‘disfigured by austerity’. 

• Communities then see an inevitable shrinking of neighbourhood policing teams – the bastion of Peelian policing, and the ultimate symbol of a service that cares.   

• We’ve now put 20,000 officers back in – of course a positive – but this was adding to a critically low base number, meaning we are only around 3,000 up on our total officer numbers from 2010 and 21 out of 43 forces still have less officers than in 2010.  Alongside this, we’ve had to continually push for an appropriate increase in the number of superintendents to lead this new workforce. There are still 28% fewer Chief Superintendents than in 2010. There must be strategic thinking behind generational change of this kind.  

• Most recently we have seen the home secretary write to all chief constables directing the use of their resources relating to lines of inquiry, and questioning support of inclusion initiatives. Something I will return to later. 

All of this, set against rising crime and demand and population growth of over 3 million people. 
40% of our crime demand is fraud. Children are targeted every day via their mobile phones and subject to the most horrific forms of abuse, yet we are ordered to attend every home burglary without exception.  Are these arbitrary targets helpful? What are they based on?  Do we not have the foresight to see what the public will think when the solved rates for these types of crimes do not actually increase?
Effective measurement is important, we must deliver and we must be held to account – but are numerical targets the way to do this, and do we always recognise when they are causing the opposite of the desired result?  Former PSA President Irene Curtis said in her report into target setting, commissioned by the then home secretary that “The challenge forces face is to develop a performance framework that not only provides a good understanding of the business in order to help effective decision making, but also enables individuals to be appropriately held to account, whilst ensuring that they remain focused on doing the right thing for the public and for victims and in an environment where they are empowered to do so.” 

Can we ever ‘win’ the trust and confidence battle when the parameters in which we’re able to work are set by those far removed from the reality of policing, who don’t have the ‘good understanding of the business’ that Irene referred to, at the local level? 

My second ask? An effective performance management process, focused on an accurate picture of policing, not arbitrary targets that add no value and can drive perverse behaviours. 
The delivery of effective neighbourhood policing in our communities is not mandated. Is this why we have seen it decline? I’ll always believe that the heart of policing is within our communities. The recent State of Policing Report references neighbourhood policing as ‘the building block’ of policing in England and Wales. The public being able to see and engage with the police will always lead to better, stronger relationships. I fear that because we cannot provide stats and figures to justify this work, it will always be viewed as a ‘nice to have’, rather than what it fundamentally is – a ‘must’ have.  
But community safety doesn’t just sit with the police. We need to see statutory agencies compelled and required to deliver outcomes together. Agreements must be stronger, supported with data protection law that requires agencies to share information, to avoid using legislation as a barrier and instead use it as a facilitator.   
My 3rd ask? To explore a national community safety commission that mandates public state actors to work together for the benefit of community safety, with clear responsibilities on which they will be measured. ~

We’re constantly being reviewed.  But then what? What happens as a result of the considered recommendations? 
At this very conference in 2021, the Police Foundation launched its Strategic Review into policing.  It is full of sound insight and recommendations into how we can address the challenges we face, but has it actually been grasped and used for change?  
We have welcomed the Productivity Review, but it should have taken the work of the Police Foundation as a hugely valuable starting point from which to base its work.  We have the evidence, and we don’t need to research it again – but we do. 

Chief HMIC Andy Cooke recently published his first state of policing report.  What will it lead to?  In it he says “there are only so many times we can say the same thing” – everyone here would probably agree.  Baroness Casey noted that policing’s structures of governance and scrutiny are weak, and that as it is not a regulator, HMICFRS can only really comment on what it finds.

There is a fundamental challenge here, and we need to find the right balance between local operational independence and accountability, and a defined minimum standard that ensures consistency across the service for our communities.  The College of Policing are doing some great work here and need our full support in driving this forward.  
My 4th and 5th ask – 
(4) We ask that any report or review into the actions of police, is commissioned with a clear accountability framework so that recommendations are delivered with meaning 
(5) We ask that full consideration is given to the HMICFRS recommendation that it becomes a regulatory body – exploring the arguments for and against this, with the view to ensuring accountability that works 

My 6th ask relates to the proposed Royal Commission into the criminal justice system promised in 2019 by the government – what has happened to it? This is needed more than ever, to look at the wider issues across the criminal justice system. We supported it as an association in 2019, and we ask for the government to move forward with this with urgency. 

So on to fairness and support.   

Many of the things I’ve discussed so far relate to the wider policing system.  But what about the experiences ‘on the ground’ that our people face day to day? 

Pay will always have an impact on how our people feel.  If they are not paid fairly, they do not feel valued, it impacts their motivation and this in turn impacts on service. 
Times remain incredibly hard financially for our communities, that of course includes our officers and staff, who are navigating a cost of living crisis.  Whilst we are a long way from a pay deal that recognises inflation, this year’s pay increase of 7% was a positive step in the right direction. 
For the first time, we submitted a joint statement to the PRRB with the NPCC, CPOSA and the APCC. Coming together for the good of the workforce is only ever positive and with our combined evidence and insight, we can influence positive change in this way. 
There is still much to be done when it comes to a fair and appropriate process for pay and allowances. It is our role as an association to represent our members on issues such as these which are not affording them the value and respect they deserve.  

We have reached our current position through litigation, withdrawing from the formal process and, consistent, evidence-based argument. It should not take this to deliver fairness. The government should accept we deserve fair pay and we should have a system that delivers it, not the combative process we have had in place for nearly a decade.  
My 7th ask? Formally review the PRRB process to ensure it is fit for purpose. We need a fair, transparent system that is set up to work with and understand the complexities of police pay.    
Last year, we published the results of our annual member survey. They showed the worst picture we have ever recorded when it comes to wellbeing.  It showed that morale and motivation is the lowest it has been since we began the survey 8 years ago. 80% of our members reported low morale across the service and just 40% report high personal morale – the lowest of any other year. 
Our work and wellbeing survey gave no better picture, and both the Police Federation and Oscar Kilo have shared similar results. 

We have the Covenant, which is a landmark piece of legislation borne out of the front line review which the government should be congratulated for delivering, but,  staff survey results never seems to cause concern from government, in fact they don’t even incite comment. This just didn’t sit right with me, so I’ve now raised the lack of government response to staff surveys as a serious concern and I am pleased that we have a commitment from the policing minister to create a formal process for this going forward.  It is the most valuable data the government can access on their police workforce.   

Oscar Kilo is doing fantastic work in providing a range of wellbeing services to our forces. I believe that its creation was a milestone moment in the history of our service and the passion and experience of Andy Rhodes who leads the organisation, is driving forward major progress. 
However, how often this excellent support reaches individuals, is down to the decisions made by individual forces.   

Quite rightly, we spend huge sums on personal protective equipment for our teams, but so much less on the mental health protection they need to be resilient in the face of the challenges we ask them to deal with. 

I’ve referenced the productivity review.  In business terms – a ‘well’ workforce, is a productive workforce.  If we take ethics and humanity out of the picture, it makes pure business sense to keep our people well. I am pleased that following my direct intervention on this issue, a workforce work stream has been included within the review and I look forward to seeing the results of this work.  
Working on wellbeing has been a passionate focus of mine since being elected into post and it’s wonderful to hear national colleagues citing the association’s impact. 

Our peer support training programme, developed in partnership with Oscar Kilo means our people can support their colleagues. We’ve worked with Leicester University to support superintendents in the final years of the service as part of the ‘resilient senior leaders programme’.  The university is now working with Oscar Kilo to develop a national programme, all based on the work we began with them two years ago.  What a fantastic, positive move in recognition of the efforts of our senior leaders.   
Most recently, I have worked with colleagues at CPOSA to set up a confidential mental health support line for senior officers, based in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and we have secured agreement for a group of 200 superintendents to be psychologically assessed as a pilot study to understand whether the high-risk nature of their roles is leading to wellbeing challenges that we can address. 
Oscar Kilo is a crucial ally of the association, often taking forward our asks and running with them to deliver what they know is the support our people need and deserve. A fantastic example of what my predecessor described as ‘the blue team’ working together. 

My last ask: that high standards of occupational health and wellbeing support are mandated across our service by the College of Policing, delivered with impact by NPCC, and regulated by our inspectorate. 

Finally, the MacPherson Report.   

More than 20 years on and we are still no closer to real change with regards to race, nor to reaching agreement over a phrase that appears to now attract more focus than the critical issue it seeks to address – institutional racism in policing.  A subject we cannot ignore in a speech seeking to address trust and confidence. 
For me, and for us as an association, the phrase still remains too emotive and divisive for our own members to reach any agreement. As head of their representative body, I therefore cannot speak on their behalf. This is ok – we should challenge ourselves and it should be part of our focussed discussions, regardless of whether we reach an agreement. But what our members tell us, is that many do see discrimination in our service – something eloquently described by our members in a video shared yesterday. 

Committing thousands of pounds and extensive resources to action plans designed to address sexism, misogyny and racism in policing are surely an acceptance that these horrendous behaviours are present in our service.  How can we say they are not?   
But the communities who feel so distanced and distrusting in their police will never be appeased by a strategy.  It’s a commitment yes, but they deserve apologies, they deserve to see results, to see change and to see the service they deserve. 
The home secretary recently wrote to all chief constables to question some of the work in this area under the subject of political impartiality.  She gave examples of police activity that she felt had led to the damaging of public confidence by supposedly apolitical police forces siding with one group over another.  
She references ‘dancing and fraternising with political demonstrators’ which we assume relates to police attendance at Pride, the displaying of the progress flag and the wearing of badges. These are deeply personal and passionate matters for our staff and our communities. What I have actually seen are plenty of examples of effective community engagement and a desire to promote and welcome inclusion in all its forms. 
Trust and confidence starts with how we treat our people.  If they cannot be their true selves at work, how can we expect them to police our communities in the best possible way?  
The language being used here matters.   

When the government uses language in this way to position police as political rather than inclusive, are we opening the doors to a rhetoric of discrimination against those most vulnerable in our communities? 
As a staff association, we have sought ways where we can make tangible change with regards to valuing difference, and I am hugely proud of our influence. We are staunch supporters of our LGBT+ colleagues and communities. We recently helped fund a national conference for the LGBT+ National Police Network at which I spoke and I stressed “we are with you, we will lean in and we will step up”. We are not afraid to be the allies our colleagues and communities deserve. 
For more than two years, our Future Supers programme has been one of the very few proactive initiatives attempting to respond to the inclusion and diversity crisis. More than 900 officers and staff from under-represented groups have now received bespoke coaching and mentoring from our members and have had access to specially designed workshops to support their career progression. 

This is one of the most fundamental challenges facing our rank and our workforce – we must change the face of senior policing to reflect our communities. As we meet today around 5% of chief officers identify as black, Asian or minority ethnic. Our rank is the pipeline, and our membership statistics are similar, until this changes, we will not see true progress. 
In conclusion, whilst we can never underplay the challenges policing faces, let’s recognise and accelerate some of the fantastic work underway, and underpin it with a system that works. 

The State of Policing Report said that ‘policing is not broken beyond repair’. I wholeheartedly agree. It is delivering outstanding work, day in, day out, by the most committed and professional of people. 
But the problems we see are deeply embedded in the system, and linked to national leadership that is often at odds with the reality of policing.  The home secretary is writing to chief constables about attending every burglary, pursuing all lines of enquiry and the waving of flags, and wearing of badges.  “Where are the letters on the core issues being highlighted again and again by the people with the best possible information on policing today?”
We cannot forget the people that sit within this. Their health and wellbeing cannot be viewed as a mere side effect of the system issues that are not being addressed. A well, happy, and supported workforce is a productive workforce.  

I’ve spent years surrounded by brilliant people doing brilliant things. We must fight their corner, supported by a government that is proud of its police service, and truly understands what it means to be a police officer today.  

Let’s get back behind policing. 
Thank you