Devon and Cornwall police set for strike ballot
Police officers in Devon and Cornwall are to be balloted on seeking the right to strike after reform of their pension was described as "one of the final nails in the coffin for a proud service".
Last week, Home Secretary Theresa May wrote to the Commons confirming a shift away from the current final salary scheme to a career-average system.
Average member contributions will increase to 13.7%. All the changes will come into force from April 2015.
Nationally, the plan was welcomed by the Police Federation, which represents constables, sergeants and inspectors, as the "best deal possible" despite some disappointing points.
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However, Sergeant Nigel Rabbitts, chairman of the Devon and Cornwall branch of the federation, said the pensions reform was the "final straw" after other reviews had radically altered officer's terms and conditions and made them vulnerable to being made redundant.
"Although we understand our national association's tempered response, locally we are dismayed, angry and very disappointed with the proposed new pension scheme from 2015, he said.
"We cannot use strong enough language to voice our disgust that the Home Secretary fails to recognise that warranted officers who already contribute more of their salary to the current pension scheme than any of the rest of the public sector, and feels the need to hit junior in service officers with reduced projected pensions in the future.
"This is one of the final nails in the coffin for a proud service. We will be seeking, with immediate effect, a mandate from our local members the right to seek full industrial rights," he continued.
"We will not be treated in this way. It is time our members had a voice.
"This is a clear breach of the covenant which has stood between police officers and governments since 1919."
The federation is staging a series of open meetings with officers with a view to a vote being held before the end of the month.
Other branches are also expected to ballot their members.
Sgt Rabbitts said an emergency meeting of national delegates could be called if branches voted in favour of seeking full industrial rights, leading to a national ballot.
The last time police officers in Devon and Cornwall voted on the issue was in 2008, after then Home Secretary Jacqui Smith refused to backdate a 2.5% pay rise.
At the time 87% of officers were in favour of having the right to strike.
Police pensions were last reformed six years ago, creating two separate schemes with a compulsory retirement age of 60 for the vast majority of officers.
The most disputed of the latest changes is the move from the final salary scheme – where half an officer's pension is based upon their salary upon retirement and half made up of a lump sum – to a pension pot based on the average of their career earnings.
Contributions will increase to 13.7%, a rise of between 3.6% and 1.2% depending which scheme officers are currently on.