Police staff, special constables and volunteers

We examine the status of police staff who, unlike police officers, are subject to normal employment legislation. We also look at the status of special constables and volunteers.

Police staff - bargaining structures, pay and conditions

It used to be that most police staff who were not police officers but who worked in the police service in support roles were employed by the relevant local authority, which provided oversight and support to forces before the establishment of police authorities. Generally, support staff were employed on local government terms and conditions (with the exception of Metropolitan Police staff who were treated as if they were part of the civil service).

Now, most police staff who work for the police service in support roles are employed by the chief constable of the particular force (as a corporation sole) with a small number employed by the police and crime commissioner. Prior to 1 April 2014, most support staff were employed by the police and crime commissioner although their day-to-day "direction and control" was delegated to the chief constable of that force. Before 22 November 2012, the police authority was the employer.

The Police Staff Council (PSC) was established in 1995 to separate the negotiation of police staff pay and conditions from the local government national negotiating machinery. Its constitution is similar to that of the former Police Negotiating Board, with an official side comprising representatives of the Home Office, the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners and the Association of Chief Police Officers, and the trade union side comprising Unison, the GMB and Unite representatives. There is no independent chair or vice chair but the role of chair rotates between the two sides annually. PSC decisions are reached by a more traditional collective bargaining approach, but are binding only on forces that have incorporated the PSC agreement into their contracts of employment. The majority of forces have done so, but a small number of forces remain outside the agreement and negotiate terms and conditions locally. See the Local Government Association website for more details about the PSC, and to access PSC circulars.

The PSC agreement has a single pay spine normally renegotiated annually with effect from 1 September. Forces can determine a local grading structure and grades based on the pay spine and decide the appropriate salary or grading levels. Although there is a nationally recommended job evaluation scheme, forces use a wide variety of pay determination models. The agreement sets out core conditions of employment covering, for example, working hours, shift and weekend working enhancements, holiday and sickness. The PSC agreement also has a number of advisory policies and procedures that forces adopt or adapt for local use.

Police staff are subject to employment-related legislation and employee relations is handled through the normal consultation and negotiation processes with trade unions, as appropriate. Trade union membership varies considerably across different forces.

In the past, police staff numbers increased as a result of a process, often referred to as "civilianisation" or "workforce modernisation", under which roles traditionally undertaken by police officers, but which required no police powers, were transferred to police staff. This occurred in relation to support or "back office" roles and in public-facing roles including front desk or enquiry counters in police stations, and taking emergency calls in control rooms or communications centres. The most significant change was the introduction of uniformed police community support officers who have limited police powers but who are in high-visibility, community-focused roles and the use of police staff in other front-line roles with limited police powers. However, reductions in public expenditure have reversed the trend towards increasing police staff numbers, as police forces struggle to reduce costs but are unable to reduce police officer numbers other than by natural wastage.

Special constables and volunteers

Special constables (known as "specials") are voluntary, unpaid (apart from expenses), part-time police officers. They usually have other jobs and work as police officers in the evenings or at weekends, alongside regular police officer colleagues. Their training is similar to, but less extensive than, that of police officers. Special constables have the same legal powers as regular police officers and are subject to the same standards of conduct and performance.

There have been studies that have recommended a paid "reserve" similar to the Territorial Army forces but this recommendation has not been progressed due to concerns that some of the character of a "volunteer" service would be lost. The Special Constabulary numbers vary considerably across the country, but they provide useful support to regular colleagues at times of particular pressure on the service, including major events. The "specials" often provide forces with a good source of recruits to the regular forces as they have experienced police work, have already had some training and know what to expect prior to applying for the regular force.

The use of volunteers is a small but growing element of the staffing of the police service. Many forces have developed teams of volunteers to support local policing teams, for example to staff local police stations in rural areas that would not otherwise be open. Volunteers are unpaid but there are HR considerations around vetting, training and health and safety.