by Tim Lezard Swingeing government cuts to police forces in England and Wales could be putting public safety at risk as unpaid volunteers are recruited to carry out some of the most sensitive and demanding police staff roles, is the startling finding o …

Tim Lezard Europe, UK, UK unions, Unison,

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by Tim Lezard

Swingeing government cuts to police forces in England and Wales could be putting public safety at risk as unpaid volunteers are recruited to carry out some of the most sensitive and demanding police staff roles, is the startling finding of a new report by UNISON.

The research reveals a new ‘Home Guard’ of 9,000 police support volunteers has been quietly recruited by police forces in England and Wales to replace the 15,000 police staff job cuts made by the Tory-led government.

There is an increasingly long list of job roles carried out by volunteers, many of which have been or are paid roles. These include involvement in crime scenes, drug testing people in custody, forensics, emergency planning, property detention, deployment management and the provision of scientific support.

The report warns that the actions taken by volunteer police staff are exempt from scrutiny by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, despite UNISON lobbying the Home Office last year for this loophole to be closed.

The report also highlights the ambition of some police leaders to recruit volunteers into some of the most sensitive and demanding police staff roles, despite assurances from the Home Office and from the College of Policing that none of these volunteers is replacing a fully employed member of police staff.

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “A bewildering range of police functions are being given to well meaning amateurs at a time of massive cuts to the police staff workforce. Home Office guidance on police support officers stipulates that volunteers should not under any circumstance replace the roles of directly employed police staff, but this is evidently not the case. This report exposes a massive loophole in the current arrangements which could pose a significant threat to public safety.”

The union is concerned that the implications of replacing paid police employees with volunteers have not been the subject of proper public debate or scrutiny, with volunteers moving from peripheral roles, such as chaplain or custody visitors, to key positions like police driving instructors, emergency planners, financial investigators, intelligence inputters, deployment managers, crime scene investigators and many more key operational police roles.

Dave Prentis said: “UNISON recognises the positive impact which volunteers have across England and Wales in all walks of life. UNISON itself relies on the voluntary efforts of many thousands of our own branch representatives to keep our union running.

“But questions must be asked when volunteering spills over into areas that were previously the preserve of directly employed, highly trained, vetted, skilled and accountable police employees.”


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Tim Lezard

Campaigning journalist, editor of @Union_NewsUK, NUJ exec member; lover of cricket, football, cycling, theatre and dodgy punk bands

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