My last article on the Police Federation prompted a number of comments, two of which were to the effect that I’d got it wrong, and that membership of the Police Federation was not compulsory.
Now, as it happens, it is clear that the Federation is the only statutory staff association for federated ranks, and therefore my points still hold – if it gets too political, or the wrong kind of political, officers are not free to take themselves elsewhere.
However, whether membership is automatic, and whether subscriptions have to be paid are actually very important points. What I stated was my impression from when I joined the service and a Fed Rep addressed our intake on day 1 or 2 of the course, when we were still inclined to believe whatever it was he said.
But what is the truth? – I am having difficulty locating the Police Act 1919 online at the moment, which is where I think this will be resolved, so perhaps readers will be able to help. For now, we know the following:-
The Federation describe themselves as “a staff association for all police constables, sergeants and inspectors (including chief inspectors” here.
However, the Chairman, in a fit of modesty here, only claims to represent 99% of serving officers, though the 1% could be a reference to the Superintendent’s Association and ACPO. He specifically says that membership is not compulsory and then sells the benefits of membership.
However, this text on employment law suggests that police officers are automatically members of the Police Federation.
Reluctant as I am to turn to Wikipedia as a source, I note the current text on the federation begins with “The Police Federation of England and Wales is the representative body to which all police officers in England and Wales up to and including the rank of Chief Inspector belong. There are 141,000 members as of July 2009. Members can elect not to pay subscriptions and thereby not receive the legal representation and other benefits that paying members receive, but they still continue officially to be members of the federation. In reality only a very few officers have ever decided not to pay their full subscription dues.”
So, whoever was wrong, at least they have company.
However, there are not only the questions of whether membership, and indeed subscriptions, are compulsory. There is also the question of what impression people have been given when they joined. Certainly my impression was that there was no choice.
If this is the impression left, about membership and subscriptions, and it turns out not to be the case, then we could have a mis-selling scandal, and there could be plenty of cops who have paid 30 years of subs on the basis of a misrepresentation. Anyone fancy claiming them back?
Furthermore, any PCC will want to know on what basis the Federation reps he talks to claim to represent the rank and file. Is it because everyone is automatically a member, or because the vast majority of officers choose to be a member, or because the officers join to get insurance, or because they think they have to join, or have to be insured when in fact they don’t?
I’m therefore very interested to see if anyone can resolve this, or tell us what impression they were given when they joined the police service.