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NI Chief warns job cuts and mutual aid coming without more funding

Northern Ireland’s police service has no more options for saving money and jobs will be cut next, its chief constable has warned.

Chief Constable Simon Byrne in his update to the force’s policing board said that the force could resort to making mutual aid requests to other UK forces to meet commitments.

He revealed that the force is struggling to find ways to clear the £23m deficit in funding and that a review of options is that around 300 roles will have to go unless extra funding can be found.

The report set out the bleak options unless officials and ministers step in.

Years of austerity mean the force is already 500 short of the required peacetime level and CC Byrne warned more is to come.

Aggregate reductions in the policing budget over the last 10 years amount to around £200m - a 20% overall reduction. 

This has largely been managed through savings in "non-pay areas" of the police budget. But CC Byrne’s assessment is that there are no other areas where big savings can be made. 

The report said: “There is limited remaining scope to redress the current funding gap by further reducing non-pay revenue spend. Instead, a reduction in police officer numbers will be necessary in order to achieve a balanced budget in 2021-22. 

“In real terms, the police officer headcount will reduce by approximately 300 officers throughout the financial year. It is projected that this will result in a total police officer numbers falling to circa 6,700 by March 2022.”

CC Byrne’s submission warned: “It is our formal organisational assessment, that the current draft budget allocation is not sufficient to facilitate meaningful delivery of all the outcomes under the Policing Plan 2020 - 2025.

"Sustainable funding is essential to achieving the renewed focus of, ‘strengthening approaches and supporting mechanisms for policing in the community’ under New Decade, New Approach.” 

The board was told that with a shortfall of officers, the force would resort to borrowing officers from UK forces through mutual aid to deal with major incidents.

The report explained: “Reduced public order capacity is an inevitable consequence of a shrinking organisation. This will increase our reliance on mutual aid support, particularly considering the fact that the overtime budget will also experience reduction.” 

His report was made public on the same day as a letter from Unionist paramilitaries warning they were abandoning their commitments to the Good Friday Agreement due to the current post-Brexit arrangements.

Although the security assessment is that the announcement was political, CC Byrne told the board that politicians could not count on stability.

He said: “The Northern Ireland Protocol has seen a re-emergence of identity politics and a rising tide of tension. The resultant societal and political environment has implications for policing.

"This highlights the importance of adequate funding and resource to manage a potentially volatile, fast paced, unpredictable and complex set of circumstances.”  

The Budget confirmed that £410m has been allocated for the NI Executive.

The cost of the 600 new officers needed to meet the New Decade, New Approach pledge is estimated at £40m a year.

But there is also a commitment to support the Historical Investigations Unit. No figure has been agreed for its funding.

With effect from 8 March 2021, Assistant Chief Constable Mark McEwan will assume responsibility for Crime Department. Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd and Temporary Assistant Chief Constable John Roberts will remain in their current positions in District Policing Command and Operational Support Department. 

A new Temporary Assistant Chief Constable will assume leadership of Community Safety Department upon selection, towards the end of March 2021. 

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