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Police leaders sound alarm as PSNI budget sign-off stalls

PSNI’s funding crisis has deepened as no-one can sign off a budget.

The prospect of significant cuts for Police Service of Northern Ireland have increased after the finance minister warned a budget cannot be set.

Conor Murphy warned the Democratic Unionist Party’s decision to withdraw from the Assembly over the Brexit protocol means a funding deal cannot be signed off.

He said: “The Executive, if it were still in place, could allocate in the region of an extra £300m to departments for next year, on top of the published Draft Budget position. This money could have been used for various purposes including skills, housing, and the police service.

“Unfortunately the legal advice is that this cannot happen without an Executive. So departments cannot plan to make use of this additional funding. Instead the money will sit idle, until such times as an Executive is re-established.”

Emergency funding will have to be put in place – but critical decisions on policing are now in the balance.

It comes despite warnings from Chief Constable Simon Byrne and the force’s Federation leaders that jobs will be lost.

Frontline policing reacted with alarm at the announcement.

Mark Lindsay, Chair, PFNI, said: “Not for the first time, policing is left as an afterthought. We are heading into a funding crisis.”

The force had only just begun to recover from the last Assembly shutdown which went on for three years. And the latest hiatus will set the force back, the Fed warned.

He added: “What that means is that without a clear three-year funding package, we will only see a ’sticking plaster’ solution to keep the service afloat. Such hand-to-mouth existence will be hugely damaging and regressive.”

The announcement followed months of negotiations by CC Byrne with political leaders after the draft budget had proposing a 10% increase in health spending – at the expense of the Justice Department.

As an immediate step to mitigate further financial pressure in 2022/23 PSNI have deferred the planned student officer recruitment intake for March 2022 to save up to £5m.

But CC Byrne had warned late last year this wouldn’t be enough to balance the books and far bigger cuts would have to be made.

“Payroll savings will be insufficient to address the funding gap, the impact will undoubtedly be felt on much-needed infrastructure and support services affecting investment in IT systems, fleet, estates and training,” he said.

The force’s Fed laid out just what that will mean.

Mark Lindsay said: “Even if there was going to be a Northern Ireland budget, policing would have to endure a savage cut over three years of £226m. That means 1,000 fewer officers which would bring PSNI officer numbers down to 6,000. This means services to the public such as community policing would be greatly reduced if not disappear altogether.”

"Planning to renew the estate, purchase new vehicles and kit or undertake any serious resource planning will be impossible.”

The finance minister pledged day-to-day work wouldn’t stop.  

Mr Murphy said: “In these difficult circumstances I will continue to do my best to ensure funding for essential public services continues."

 But Mr Lindsay said the commitment made by politicians on all sides in the ‘new start’ agreement wouldn’t be met – including finally getting police numbers up to those agreed in the Patten report.

He said: “They must realise that starving the police of the financial resources they need will ultimately directly and adversely affect the quality of service that is provided to their constituents.

“I appeal to them to re-think their approach and copy the example of what’s happening in other regions where police budgets are increasing and officer numbers expanding to serve their communities.”

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