'Work for free first' plan for police recruits

A proposal by the Metropolitan Police to make new recruits work for free before they can be considered for a full-time job could be adopted by forces across England and Wales, it was revealed today.

Britain’s biggest police force wants to make future police officer applicants take up posts as Special Constables, where they will work part-time and voluntarily for at least 200 hours before they can become a PC.

It is suggested by senior Scotland Yard officers that the scheme will save the force £12million a year due to the fact that they will not have to pay the trainee officers for about a year, saving the £20,000 salary. It comes just days after the Chancellor George Osborne set a target of reducing the cost of Government departments by 25 per cent.

But the plan has been condemned by some members of the Metropolitan Police Authority, the body responsible for holding the Met to account, who say that it will make the force “elitist”, pricing out those who cannot afford to work for free. Other critics say it could mean that forces will miss out on talented candidates who simply do not want to work for free.

At an MPA meeting yesterday, Martin Tiplady, the director of human resources at the Metropolitan Police revealed that the National Police Improvement Agency (NPIA) is already looking at whether other forces could follow suit.

If the scheme does get the go ahead it will mean that the recruits would go through training unpaid and would start as fully-qualified officers, expected to walk the beat alone, on their first day as a PC.

Mr Tiplady said: “This emanated from thinking about different and cheaper way of recruitment. But it is not just about money saving, it is a better system of recruitment and training.”

The Met have already taken their proposal to the Home Office and the NPIA to make sure it is legal. Mr Tiplady addeD: “They are keen to support what we are doing and keen to assist, particularly in how this may be relevant across the rest of the UK.”

Currently new recruits go through a selection process involving an interview and a fitness test. Once offered a position they will be sent to the police training college at Hendon, north London, for 26 weeks, during which time they will be paid a probationer’s salary of about £20,000.

Under the new proposal the training would be mostly on-the-job as an unpaid Special Constable although would-be officers are also put through a law certificate. Mr Tiplady said that it would allow new recruits to “hit the ground running”.

But yesterday it came up against opposition in the form of some MPA members. Jenny Jones, a Green Party member, said: “This move has been conjured up by senior officers determined to cut costs at any price. But their proposals could exclude many people who simply won’t be able to become a police officer because they would have to work part-time free for the Met for 12 to 18 months first.”

While Cindy Butts warned that the proposal would not be favourably received: “We all remember the hoo-ha with PCSOs and the media describing it as policing on the cheap. I can see headlines which say ‘never mind policing on the cheap, this is policing for free’.”

Others were more welcoming. Several MPA members praised the plan as “creative”, “imaginative” and “radical”. Tony Arbour said: “This is the Holy Grail of public administration here, we are looking at proposals which are not only better but cheaper.”

Pete Smyth, the chair of the Metropolitan Police Federation, said: “My concern is that if people are told they have to do a year’s work without pay then we could lose some very good candidates. I can see the benefits though, it makes financial sense and money is tight.”

The proposal is bad news for the 1,800 Met recruits who have been on a waiting list since January 2009. The Independent revealed earlier this year that they had been told they would not get start dates until at least spring 2011. Yesterday the Met confirmed it has now sent letters informing them that their applications have in fact been closed. They can, however, transfer their application to become a Special Constable.

Mr Tiplady said: “I personally regret causing disappointment to recent police officer hopefuls. It is unfair to keep individuals in the recruitment system when there is little prospect of them being able to join in the foreseeable future.”

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