The Gibraltar Defence Police Federation [GDPF] has accused the Ministry of Defence of hindering its ability to properly represent its members, in a development that lays bare a sharp deterioration in the relationship between the Federation and the Chief Police Officer at the force.
The Federation says the top officer at the Gibraltar Defence Police, Rob Allen, is restricting so-called ‘facility time’ that enables certain officers to use work time for Federation business.
The Federation claimed facility time had been suspended, “effectively paralysing” its work and preventing any kind of effective representation.
But the MoD firmly rebutted the claim and insisted there had been no change in its stance on facility time, adding that it has no desire to prevent the Federation from representing its members.
It cautioned, however, that not every request for facility time could be accommodated, although most were approved.
The backdrop to the latest exchanges is the rift between the Federation and Mr Allen, which deepened after a large number of GDPF members took a vote of no confidence in the Chief Police Officer earlier this year.
There are numerous issues of contention, including disagreements over pay and the potential transfer of GDP officers to the Royal Gibraltar Police.
Both sides admit there has been a breakdown in communication and trust, with a knock-on effect on morale at the force at a time when its officers are taking a prominent role in key areas of Gibraltar’s security, including armed counterterrorism response on land and patrols in British waters around the Rock.
“The GDPF has acted reasonably and professionally on these matters, and our goal is to resolve these issues amicably to avoid reputational damage to the police force we are all so proud of,” said Keith Howard, the Federation’s chairman.
“However, the current approach and attitude towards us is a throwback to best-forgotten former days, and has led to all-time low morale amongst our members.”
A spokesman for the MoD in Gibraltar accepted that relationships were strained at present and said that as a result, the Commander British Forces, Commodore Mike Walliker, had commissioned an external review to address outstanding issues.
“There has been a rapid and significant deterioration in relationships since the beginning of the year,” the MoD spokesman said.
“That is why CBF commissioned an independent and wide-ranging review of the GDP.”
“We expect to receive the findings of that review in the near future and anticipate that they will be far-reaching and no doubt challenging, but that they will enable us to stabilise the force, return to good relations, and improve morale.”
The latest flare-up centres on the GDPF’s ability to represent its members.
The GDPF has no full-time officials and relies on facility time to carry out all duties in relation to their police officers.
This includes meetings with parliamentarians, the Government of Gibraltar, the MoD and the direct representation of members.
Running the Federation itself is also included in the provision under the terms of a memorandum agreed with the Commander British Forces.
Mr Howard, however, believes there has been a deliberate shift in the interpretation of the terms of reference so as to redirect facility time to suit the Chief Police Officer and the MoD.
“At this juncture, we won’t comment on the vote of no confidence, but we believe the position the CPO has adopted on our facility time is both unreasonable, and goes against the spirit and letter of this original provision,” Mr Howard said.
“The position of the CPO, apparently endorsed by CBF and MoD, is that this now solely provisions discussion between GDPF and the official side.”
“This was never the case, and suspension and/or restrictions imposed on all facility time is effectively a suspension of the federation itself.”
The GDPF also flagged “petty reprisals on GDP officers for perceived minor infractions” and said the situation had raised concerns in Westminster that the MoD’s actions went against an established “covenant” agreed with police federations to allow representation and facility time in return for the removal of the right to strike.
“We urge the Command to reconsider its position on facility time, and allow us to get on with the job of effective representation for our members,” Mr Howard said.
“Hopefully, good sense will prevail.”
But yesterday, the MoD insisted that there had been no change to the memorandum on facility time or in its interpretation of it.
“There is no ban on facility time,” a spokesman for HQ British Forces told the Chronicle.
“Requests for facility time submitted in the usual way will still be assessed by the management team as per usual – something we confirmed to the Federation Chairman in writing as recently as 22 August.”
The spokesman added: “We have no desire to prevent the GDPF from effectively representing the views of their members – that is their role and one we want them to carry out.”
“Whilst that does not mean requests for facility time can be accommodated in every case, the majority of requests this year have been approved.”