Blog: ‘Critics didn’t think we could change, but we have’

18 September 2018

Andy Fittes

Outgoing National Secretary Andy Fittes

As he prepares to retire, National Secretary Andy Fittes reflects on his time as a Federation rep.  

This is a great organisation – I know some of you will read that and disagree, but I can honestly say that it is. I have been a Federation representative for 19 years and I have witnessed first-hand how hard it has been for us to get where we are today. Critics thought we could not pull off the scope of the much-needed change advised in the 2014 Independent Review – among those critics included the then Home Secretary Theresa May – but we have. I think we have shown true grit and resolve to move the organisation to a better place. I feel as though I am leaving the organisation stronger than I found it – armed with a new structure and governance that will enable it to be more effective for our members.

The past four years has not just been about organisational change. We achieve many small things every day for our members, and those things add up to bigger things that make a real impact – for example, we successfully argued to keep the away from home overnight allowance, insisted that forces must adhere to the Children and Families Act 2014, and lobbied for clearer pension benefit statements and an accurate pension calculator. Alongside this, our central claims team deal with over 37,000 enquiries from our members seeking legal support and advice every year.    

It may surprise you to read this, but our influence in government and beyond is the envy of many unions and representative bodies – few have regular bilateral meetings with ministers anymore or enjoy the same level of attendance from senior figures at their events. Our relationship with the Home Office is important – we must nurture it to achieve real, lasting change for our members. It is this relationship that means we get invited to the table for consultations and it is also testament to the quality of our research and evidence-gathering abilities – they may not always agree with us, as the Government has its own agenda, but we are listened to.

Some may feel that we should wield the strong arm of the law more readily, that we should sue over the things we do not like. But it is through dialogue and negotiation that we achieve the most useful things for our members. For example, we had a disagreement with the National Police Chiefs’ Council over President Trump’s visit in the summer and paying overnight allowance to those officers who were deployed. But we were swiftly able to argue our case and due to our established relationship it was in officers’ pay packets the following month. Legal action can take years, with no guaranteed outcome.    

The new election process draws to a close this month, creating new Branch Boards across the country with a significant number of new faces and fresh energy to fight for our members. I am proud of the positive action provisions that we have introduced to the process – no other organisation has such provisions. We must look like the officers we represent, and we had been struggling for some time to attract the diversity of reps that we should. The mechanisms, which are innovative and flexible, go some way to addressing this issue but our work in this area continues. I want to see more women and under-represented groups taking up roles in the PFEW.

Pay will always be a big part of the organisation’s work. I do believe the Police Remuneration Review Body (PRRB) can work if it were free of political influence. We must remember that the Government is not legally obliged to follow the PRRB’s advice – though it undermines the process if it does not. Realistically, the PRRB has been in place for four years and it is just getting to grips with its role, which is to ensure a stable level of recruitment and retention. Overall, they have supported our recommendations from the evidence that we have presented each year. The Government, however, has never provided a solid reason for ignoring them – this needs to change.

The Federation can be a frustrating place to work, but is also an incredibly diverse and rewarding place to work. I am the final General Secretary of the Joint Central Committee, a role that is now gone with our new rules and regulations. I am leaving behind an organisation with the structures in place to be a flexible and agile representative body for its members. Cultural change is the next step – we are already on the road to a more united and cooperative PFEW, but we must continue to build trust with our members.