Blunkett facing a revolt by police over pay package

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Indy Politics

A new pay deal is likely to be rejected by Britain's 138,000 rank-and-file police officers, setting off a confrontation with David Blunkett.

The Home Secretary has already been criticised by chief constables, who yesterday expressed their "dismay and concern" at comments attributed to Mr Blunkett and accused him of threatening the relationship between the Government and the police.

The double challenge to Mr Blunkett's authority is becoming Labour's most serious bust-up with the police.

Early indications suggest that most of Britain's officers up to the rank of chief inspector have voted against Mr Blunkett's proposals for changes to pay and conditions. In Scotland there are reports that more than 80 per cent of the 15,000 officers who took part in the ballot have voted against it.

Glen Smyth, the chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, said that officers who helped to oversee the ballot all reported a big "no" vote.

"It's a vote of no confidence in the Home Secretary and the Government. They have spent 18 months dragging the name of the police through the mud via their spin doctors, and we have had enough," he said.

"Blunkett has mishandled this whole issue and behaved like a bully. He has alienated both the rank-and-file officers as well as chief constables."

The criticism that the Home Secretary received yesterday from the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) follows comments by Mr Blunkett last week. In a newspaper article he warned Sir John Stevens, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, and leaders of other metropolitan forces that he would use new powers contained in a police Bill to intervene if there was no big improvement in robbery and violent crime within six months.

An Acpo spokesman said yesterday: "We now see quite clearly there are very grave dangers that the Home Secretary will try and use new powers, which he expects to get, in a very centralist and a very interventionist way This could fundamentally disturb the traditional relationship between government, the police, and the community."

He added: "There is dismay and concern about the Home Secretary's statements as reported."

Sir David Phillips, the Chief Constable of Kent and the president of Acpo, has written to Mr Blunkett to ask him to clarify his position.

A senior Whitehall source has confirmed that the Home Secretary was happy with the controversial comments attrib-uted to him in the newspaper article.

The pay package under dispute will cut back on overtime payments and abolish a number of allowances. It will also increase all pay scales by £400, and offers special payments for officers in specialised or difficult jobs.

Rejection of the deal will be a serious blow to the Home Secretary's reform plans, which form the crucial backbone of his plans to cut crime.

Mr Blunkett is expected to offer to refer the police pay and conditions package to arbitration by an independent organisation.

The Government is becoming increasingly concerned about crime as an election issue and is keen to see a positive return for the millions of pounds it is spending on recruiting more police officers.