Blunkett orders police: go and do your job

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Indy Politics

The Home Secretary, David Blunkett, told police officers yesterday that they should be "policing our streets" and "not demonstrating" on them as he signalled that he was prepared to wage a bitter fight to force through his plans to shake up the service.

Mr Blunkett's bullish comments to the House of Commons will infuriate rank-and-file officers, and came as leaders of the Police Federation were meeting to plan a strategy for opposing the proposals, contained in a White Paper.

The White Paper details plans to increase the numbers of uniformed beat patrols by recruiting civilian auxiliaries, reduce red tape in routine policing, and pay extra to officers engaged in community-based police work.

Mr Blunkett told MPs that police officers should be patrolling and not protesting. He said: "We want more of them in the community on the beat, we want police on our streets, policing and securing our streets – not police on our streets demonstrating on those streets."

The Police Federation, which represents 125,000 officers, said the public opposed plans to introduce patrols by uniformed civilians with powers to stop and detain the public. Its chairman, Fred Broughton, released a statement saying that the police officers who challenged the plans had public opinion on their side, and that the Home Secretary was being "unfair and unreasonable".

Mr Broughton described the police as "a very angry workforce" which is concerned that changes to its pay and conditions will reduce overtime awards and prohibit legitimate sick leave.

The federation issued details of an ICM poll indicating that while 76 per cent of people favoured more police officers on the streets, 63 per cent were "alarmed" at plans for civilian patrollers with wide powers. Only 15 per cent backed the idea.

Mr Broughton said: "The Police Federation is not opposed to change. We all want a modern police force so we can catch and convict more criminals. But public opinion is on our side when we say that it is unfair and unreasonable to expect police officers to accept change when a majority of police officers will be worse off."

The federation says that officers will lose money over plans to allow overtime only after the completion of a 42-hour week, instead of the current 40. It says a clampdown on days taken off for illness is unfair, particularly on officers working in high-pressure areas.

In a speech today Mr Broughton will contrast Mr Blunkett's "deeply insulting" treatment of police officers with that of the Mayor of New York, Rudolph Giuliani. He will say: "Rather than attacking the police, a lesson or two could be learnt from Rudolph Giuliani as to how you go about creating a police force that can tackle crime more effectively. He didn't attack police officers doing a difficult job in public, he supported them. He invested in the police."

Mr Broughton will say he had hoped for a similar response from Mr Blunkett. "To date, we have been disappointed."

The Home Office was due to announce this morning that there has been a further increase in the total number of police officers. A Home Office spokeswoman said yesterday that the reforms were "not about cost-cutting" and that many officers would receive extra pay for their efforts, particularly those "at the sharp end of the service".

The police are not permitted to strike but outside yesterday's Police Federation meeting at the Epsom racecourse in Surrey some said members could refuse to carry out voluntary duties, such as carrying firearms or hostage negotiations. Sergeant Mick Cormack, of West Mercia Police, said: "Officers are very angry. Meetings and large assemblies like we had in 1994 could follow and other actions could be considered."