The Ministry of Defence was accused yesterday of pausing progress on the transfer of the Gibraltar Defence Police to the Government of Gibraltar, even as GDP officers face increasing demands to support local law enforcement outside the military estate.
The Gibraltar Defence Police Federation [GDPF] claimed the MoD was demanding “more for less”, from GDP officers, but was not moving ahead with the transfer in the meantime.
The Federation said uncertainty about their future was impacting morale at the force.
This was the latest development in an increasingly acrimonious stand-off between the MoD and the GDPF, which had previously complained that its ability to represent members was being restricted by the military command.
Last night the MoD insisted it remained committed to looking at options for the GDP’s future, but cautioned that it envisaged no changes “any time soon”.
The issue of the possible transfer dates back to December 2015, when the MOD undertook to consider a range of options in respect of the future of the GDP.
Some work was subsequently carried out and a number of proposals considered, including amalgamation with the Royal Gibraltar Police and the possibility of establishing a standalone agency being.
But nothing was formally agreed and GDP officers have been awaiting progress since then.
In the meantime, Gibraltar’s changing policing landscape has placed additional demands on the force, with its specialist officers now routinely called upon to work “outside the wire”.
GDP officers have been supporting the RGP two key areas, including providing additional armed officers against the background of the heightened threat level following terrorist attacks in mainland Europe.
GDP officers have also been assigned to jointly crew police vessels alongside their RGP colleagues, ensuring a high-profile law enforcement presence in British Gibraltar territorial waters.
But years of salary freezes across the UK civil service means the pay gap between GDP officers – who are paid by the MoD – and RGP officers has widened.
In practice, that means that GDP officers who are assigned to duties in support of the RGP are getting less than their counterparts, even while doing the same task.
It also means officers are subjected to “high task, low team” conditions in the work environment, with “devastating effects” on the morale of the workforce when work to life balance is not properly managed, the Federation said.
“Our members are understandably upset because they consider this equates to an abuse of our circumstances, especially when members are being exposed to increased risks,” said GDPF chairman Keith Howard.
“Not only this, but MoD insurance cover is significantly inferior to RGP/GoG employees.”
“GDP officers with niche training and capabilities, deployed both on land and at sea, and essentially conducting the same operational role as their RGP counterparts, earn a staggering 40% less in pay.”
“The fundamental inequality in these discriminatory pay and provisions has left our members feeling like second-class citizens.”
Mr Howard added: “We are sure the public will understand that this is unacceptable to our members and needs to be urgently addressed, especially as there is no apparent commitment or agreement in place to transfer our employment status.”
“We are being increasingly asked to offer our support to local law enforcement operations with a focus in optimising local police capabilities, in particular when operating outside the wire.”
According to the Federation, the MoD’s position on the transfer has changed from wanting it to happen and expressing the ambition to conclude it by the end of 2017, to putting it on hold “not by mutual agreement”.
GDP officers “…are even being discouraged from discussing this key issue at work,” the Federation claimed.
“This inconsistency is a contributing factor to the all-time low morale of GDP officers, and has left GDP police officers uncertain of their long-term future employment,” the Federation said in a statement.
But the MoD said the GDP’s future had to be viewed against the changing circumstance facing policing and security in Gibraltar.
“As briefed in May this year to GDP personnel – including members of the GDP Federation – the Ministry of Defence is committed to looking at options for the future of the GDP and that commitment stands,” an MoD spokesman told the Chronicle.
“But the context has changed.”
“Gibraltar, led by the Gibraltar Contingency Council, is rightly focused on wanting to optimise its police and wider security capabilities.”
“We – the Ministry of Defence – support His Excellency the Governor and the Chief Minister’s joint agenda to optimise policing, but do not envisage changes in GDP any time soon.”
As to the difference in pay and conditions, the MoD spokesman added: “The RGP and GDP operate under different sets of Terms and Conditions and it is unrealistic to do a straight like-for-like comparison without considering those differences.”
The possibility of a transfer of the GDP to the Gibraltar Government had been included in the GSLP/Liberals manifesto at the last general election.
Yesterday, No.6 Convent Place confirmed that commitment remained in place.
“The Government’s position is that we stand ready and willing to discuss the possible transfer by 31 December 2017,” a spokesman for the Gibraltar Government said.
The GDPF committee told the Chronicle that it was certain of its own position and that it was seeking an initial transfer to the Government of Gibraltar as “…a standalone agency, mandated by the membership’s preferred option.”
The Federation added that its members had a legitimate expectation to achieve the transfer by December 2017, “or at the very least be in a position to do so”.
“We are civilian police officers employed in Gibraltar by the MoD, and we ask that the MoD does not overcommit us to non-routine tasks until we have an agreement on rectifying the inferior insurance cover and the pay disparity,” Mr Howard said.
“As well as this, we ask the MoD for a commitment to move the transfer of policing services forward in order to secure our members long term future.”
“These inequalities aside, we have no issues whatsoever with working alongside RGP colleagues, and actively promote enhanced interoperability and the optimisation of niche capabilities.”
“However, we must strike an agreement on the legitimate aspiration of transfer, even if this is scoped under a transitional arrangement.”