Precisely because they are forbidden to strike, a system of determining police pay and arbitration thereon was set up in the late 1970s in the wake of the report of Lord Edmund Davies. By this pay was linked to the levels of non-manual public sector pay. It has now been subverted, indeed overthrown, by the Home Secretary, and the police are justifiably very cross.
When the Police invoked the arbitration procedure that has been honoured since it was set up, the Government simply ignored it and set its own award. There may be merit in the argument that the government needs to limit public sector pay to keep down inflation, though in the good times there always seemed to be enough cash to splash about to keep everyone happy. Perhaps it is a sign of the times that Labour felt moved to take on the risk of picking on the Police in this way: a sign that hard economic times are just around the corner.
In the 1970s, had the Police had to engage in a long battle to get pay up to a level that would ensure proper levels of recruitment, retention and satisfaction, there can be no doubt but that there would have been ample public support for them. The then government knew this and so felt minded to settle on good terms with them. Since then relations have been reasonably good between government and the Police.
I wonder, however, if the Police will find themselves so well supported these days if they choose to make an issue of the Government’s duplicity. These days the Police are not held high in the public esteem as they one were.
The proliferation of speed cameras which are seen as a simple cash raising exercise, the unwillingness of the police to try and detect the sort of crimes that touch the public widely – car crime, burglary and so on, the corresponding enthusiasm to investigate piffling crimes for reasons of political correctness, the perception that crimes is investigated to fulfil a politically-ambitious Chief Constable’s targets and, frankly, the thought that the Police have by and large abandoned the notion of thief-taking for the happier business of filling in forms, all this has contributed to a distancing of the public from the Police.
Now comes another bad idea, one that will cause enormous resentment against them. I refer to the proposal to permit random breath-testing of motorists to see if they have been drinking. Whilst I do not wish to be thought to be supporting the notion that drinking and driving is to be tolerated, I reckon the police need this power like a hole in the head.
Every citizen who finds himself being pulled over at random to submit to a random breath test is going to wonder if the officers thus engaged might be better employed investigating robberies, rapes, burglaries and car thefts etc. This feeling will be particularly keen if he has recently been the victim of a crime that has gone undetected. The inclination to support the Police will thus be further diminished.
Anyway, they do not have enough Policemen to do the job as it is: where are they going to get the extra ones to do all this random breath-testing? We do not really see Police doing straight traffic duty these days so someone is going to have to be pulled off form-filling to do this so yet more serious crime will go undetected.
And, one wonders, just how many extra offences are going to be detected.