‘Divisive’ police bonus payouts to continue

THE body which scrutinises Humberside Police is to dip into its reserves to fund a £150,000 shortfall in a controversial bonus payments scheme that rewarded nearly half its officers last year.

A total of 48 per cent of officers with the force received “special priority payments” of up to £1,600 last December for bearing responsibility above their rank, occupying posts that are hard to recruit to, or working in especially demanding roles or environments.

The future of this year’s payments was in doubt, however, owing to cuts in Home Office grants which covered the bulk of the cost of the scheme.

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But although the payments have been described as “inherently divisive” by Chief Constable Tim Hollis, the resources committee of force watchdog Humberside Police Authority yesterday agreed to add £150,000 to the pot of £406,000 provided by the Government to ensure the payments continue.

The maximum payment is, however, to be reduced from £1,600 to about £500, based on the 1,100 officers thought to be eligible.

The committee also called for clarification on the number of officers eligible for the payments, as the Home Office does not expect this to exceed 40 per cent of the officer strength in a force.

Committee chairman Neil Gammon said: “Members discussed the recommendations in some length and agreed that this was all round, the most reasonable option as it meets the Police Regulations and recognises the efforts of officers who have gone that extra mile in what is a difficult period for public sector workers.

“The authority recognises the financial challenges. However it also recognises the importance of good officer morale and acknowledging and rewarding those who have gone beyond their call of duty.

“Members did express concern, however, that 48 per cent of officers received this payment last year and the committee has asked the force to report back on the payment allocation process so that we can ensure officers fully meet the necessary criteria for the payment.”

A report on the payments had identified two other options to the £150,000 top up, but one, which would have seen the payments restricted to just 250 officers, would have risked “significant employee relations issues”, while the other – to top up the fund by £1.2m from reserves – could lead to posts being deleted and “dismay” among other officers and staff and “potentially the tax payer /electorate”.

In an email to officers last November, Mr Hollis sought to manage expectations by saying future payments would be strictly determined by Home Office funding, if they continued at all.

He wrote: “Whilst personally I do not support SPP as I regard it as inherently divisive, I respect the fact that the system is in place and that officers are eligible if they meet the set criteria.

“...I would, however, make it clear that in light of CSR 2010 (comprehensive spending review) budget cuts, payments in future years – if they continue – will be made strictly in line with the funds made available by the Home Office for such payments.

“Officers in receipt of payments this year should not, therefore, assume that they will receive them in 2011 and beyond.”

The committee did not comment on plans to delete the number of posts at the force’s mounted section, which if approved could see it effectively disbanded by 2014 as part of the force’s bid to find cuts of £22.5m over this period.

Any decision on the unit’s future has been delayed until after the London Olympics next year and the outcome of a national review into public order policing being carried out by the Home Office as a result of widescale rioting and looting across the country last month.