Police offer Smith “olive branch” in pay dispute

The Police Federation has offered a new year’s “olive branch” to the home secretary as the government continues to reject demands to backdate the police pay award.

The federation had called for Jacqui Smith to resign over her refusal to backdate officers’ pay rises to September. However, it has now softened its approach, speculating that the home secretary has been badly advised.

In an open letter to Ms Smith, Police Federation chair Jan Berry repeated warnings that officers are “angry and bitterly disappointed” at their pay settlement.

The 2.5 per cent pay award is below the three per cent demanded by officers and, critics claim, in real terms amounts to a below-inflation 1.9 per cent pay rise.

As well as calling for Ms Smith’s resignation, the Police Federation plans to ballot its 140,000 members next year over whether they should demand the right to strike, currently barred by law.

With Ms Berry now apparently pursuing a less confrontational path, her letter seeks to re-open negotiations with Ms Smith, who Ms Berry said suffered from ill-informed and naïve counsel in her first weeks at the Home Office.

Ms Berry wrote: “I want to take this opportunity to offer an olive branch.

“It’s not too late to change course and stop this situation escalating.”

Meeting the federation’s demands and backdating the pay award to September would restore trust and honour in the home secretary, Ms Berry states.

She added: “You know the mood of police officers, the public and many of your political colleagues. I can assure you, we have no intention of letting this go.

“I would ask you therefore to urgently reconsider the decision. Do the right thing for policing, for police officers and for the good of the country.”

The Home Office confirmed Ms Smith will meet Ms Berry in January, where the pair will look for a “constructive way forward”.

The government, however, maintains the offered pay award is just.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “The police pay award is higher than the original government offer and is now in police pay packets in full.

“However, staging the award from December ensures that it is fair to both police officers and to other public sector workers, and is right for the future of our economy.”

The Scottish Executive’s decision to backdate the pay award for officers in Scotland has piled further pressure on the government. Gordon Brown argues this has been at the expense of promised extra officer numbers.

Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan police commissioner, has also said it was a “mistake” not to backdate the pay award. He has, however, rejected calls for Ms Smith – who vocally supported him during the investigation into the Stockwell shooting – to resign.