Grounded: Ryanair and A New Policing Model?

Many have commented on the similarities between the current Ryanair fiasco and some elements of policing – “an organisation with too few staff, kept afloat by goodwill and endless hours of overtime/rest day working with the inevitable crunch of dissatisfied employees starting to vote with their feet”.

But as the crisis for Ryanair rumbles on I suggest it goes a bit deeper than the superficial comparison.

Ryanair are still reluctant, in the very public face of evidence to the contrary, to accept that this is a deep rooted structural problem in their organisation. They prefer to see it as bit of an admin jumble brought about by changes to leave year calculations. But even today, as their offer of big payments to crew to work rest days are rejected, they say they will recruit 120 more pilots in the next few days. Really? And to compound the PR disaster they get slammed by consumer rights experts for not doing enough to make affected customers aware of their compensation entitlements.

Even for an organisation that almost wears its “tough love” approach to customer service as a badge of honour, you would think the penny would have dropped that this is a proper crisis – yet you get the impression that top management are preparing to just tough it out (an approach not without precedent in the airline industry – BA tech failure anyone?).

So what’s this got to do with policing? Well quite a lot. Estimates suggest that in the Met alone 500,000 rest days are owed. Assuming that each cop works 210 days in a base year, the Ryanair approach would lead to just short of 2400 cops not coming to work for a whole year. That is not going to be a feasible solution.

Similar to Ryanair top managers, do Ministers and senior officers really recognise that something has to give? Or are they too hoping to tough it out with a bit of cash (but no bigger budgets apparently) and some public pronouncements about additional resources. Every major event seems to draw an assurance about more policing resources from “visible assurance” to promises about the number of firearms officers. But unless in my several decades in the criminal justice system someone has kept from me the existence of large warehouses full of cops waiting to be mobilised, those resources are just another call on rest days and overtime against on overall decline of police numbers. So back into the circle of stressed and dissatisfied employees.

History is not reassuring on pro-active facing up to problems in policing. While you can find lots of bits of legislation going under the name of “Police Reform” very few of them are about looking at the police as an organisation from end-to-end (and I certainly don’t count tinkering with boundaries and introducing PCCs as proper organisational reform). I don’t necessarily subscribe to calls for a Royal Commission as the amount of wrangling over terms of reference and membership will probably outrun my lifetime but there is a feeling of inevitability that things will need to reach that level of crisis before we really engage on the issues.

And that is where the similarity with Ryanair ends. Yes they can tough it out, ruin people’s travel plans and reduce their commitments to meet their shrinking resources – and even take a big hit to their reputation. But eventually they will come through it. That won’t be the same with policing where officers and staff don’t have the luxury of cancelling demand through a website/e-mail and where they and the public just deserve better leadership to address problems that may not be the fault of one or many individuals - but they are real and they are here now.

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