Association response to media reports of Police budget shortfall

NZPA | Wed March 7th, 2012

In recent days there have been media reports that Police is facing a $360m budget shortfall over the next four years, and suggestions that cuts including job losses of both constables and non-constabulary employees will be necessary to meet this shortfall.  Links to key media reports of this story are at the bottom of this message.

We believe this story has been intentionally leaked to the media in an attempt to ‘pre-condition’ members ahead of this year’s pay round.  The current collective contracts expire at the end of June this year and negotiations will not commence until closer to that time.

Through the media and internal communications, the Commissioner has essentially assured staff ‘no decisions have been made’.  He has said no staff will lose their jobs as a result of this particular issue, and suggested that any staff reductions that may be necessary could be met by attrition.  At the same time he has essentially said the eventual size of the budget shortfall depends on the stance taken by the Association in the upcoming pay round.  He has also said the current collective ‘lacks sufficient flexibility’.

In other words, members are being pre-conditioned to take responsibility for any job losses that may be necessary.  Clearly the objective is to encourage members to believe that if they were to agree to a 4 year pay freeze, and/or give up existing conditions to help Police meet its savings target, then jobs could be saved.  The public is being encouraged to believe that, if there are eventual job losses, it is the fault of ‘greedy police’.

This is simply an attempt to pre-emptively shift the blame for Government budget policy decisions onto the membership.

It is true that the Government has told Police it cannot expect a budget increase this year.  Police also had zero budget increase last year.  That means the Government has directed Police to absorb all cost pressures within the current budget.  Cost pressures include inflation, personnel costs such as CSIs, and any pay settlement that has been agreed for the year.  Those costs were absorbed last year by Police through the programme of internal savings (15% at PNHQ, 5% across Districts).

The figure of $360m has not been confirmed by anyone, but is likely to be an estimate of the impact of those cost pressures over a 4 year period, which is the Government budgeting timeframe (so, about $90m a year on average).

Facing this sort of projected budget shortfall, the Government has essentially two choices: it would either need to increase the Police budget by that amount; or, if it choose not to fund Police for those cost pressures, then Police would need to find equivalent savings from within the existing budget.  Because most of the Police budget is people, the only real way to find savings of this magnitude is by reducing staff – whether by attrition, or otherwise.

While members may take some comfort from the Commissioner’s apparent suggestion that any staff reductions could be achieved by attrition, bear in mind that as with any restructuring, it is positions that are disestablished, not people.  Members affected by restructuring may not be those who have chosen to leave Police for their own reasons.

Ultimately, the decision whether to either preserve existing staff and service levels – and accept that the cost of doing so is subject to inflation – or, alternatively, cap the budget and accept a reduction in staff and services, is a policy decision for Government.  Others may be cynically counting on the fact that police officers and employees are dedicated enough to make sacrifices ‘for the greater good’.  However, it is not up to the membership to absolve Government of responsibility for its policy decisions by buying into the current ‘spin’ that the ultimate outcome of this issue in their own hands – that members can preserve jobs and service levels by agreeing to take an effective pay cut for four years, or surrender current conditions for the entire foreseeable future.

The current media activity is simply designed to put pressure on members and the Association to forgo a fair pay claim – or give up entitlements members already have – in the belief that will avoid or minimise job losses.  This is the same as asking members to personally fund, from their own pockets, the very same inflationary cost pressures which the Government chose not to fund Police for last year; and has indicated it will not fund Police for over the next four years.

At a time when Police are already highly efficient, and highly effective – with crime and road toll both down – it is for the Government to determine what value and priority it places on retaining and building on those gains.

Be assured that, despite this attempt to pre-condition members ahead of the pay round, the Association will be taking a fair, reasonable and responsible stance in negotiations when they commence.  Your pay adviser representatives will be closely involved in that process.  We will not be drawn into negotiating through the media, and we would strongly encourage you to view this recent media activity for what it is – a negotiating tactic.

Greg O’Connor

Key media stories

Police Association President Greg O’Connor on TVNZ Breakfast 7 March 2012

Police Commissioner Peter Marshall on TVNZ Breakfast 7 March 2012

Police Commissioner Peter Marshall on Radio New Zealand Checkpoint 6 March 2012

Police Association President Greg O’Connor on Radio New Zealand Checkpoint 6 March 2012

Original New Zealand Herald article 6 March 2012

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