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PSNI pausing recruitment in bid to bridge £107m budget shortfall

Chief Constable Simon Byrne has detailed further cuts including tighter control of future internal promotion, reduced overtime and the 'potential grounding' of one helicopter.

The PSNI is set to undergo an enforced organisational overhaul after its final budget allocation from the Department of Justice (DoJ) revealed a funding gap of £107m.

While the final 2023-24 allocation was a slight improvement on the anticipated 4.75% baseline cut, the overall budget has still been reduced by 1.7%.

In his latest accountability report to the NI Policing Board, Chief Constable Simon Byrne confirmed that he and the Service Executive Team (SET) have since held a series of budget planning workshops to try and identify viable cuts.

These were discussed at the Board meeting on Thursday, where CC Byrne's three-year contract extension as chief - starting from July 1, 2024 - was also confirmed.

Of the expected cuts, he said: “I’ve commissioned effectively a 90-day review that has two strands to it. 

"One is those things that we can almost stop immediately, and we’ve come up with that shortlist which has to go through our own governance just to get final sign-off…but they will realise something between £15-17m of further savings."

“We’ve also commissioned work about a reset of the organisation to cope with less people but more work."

Pausing recruitment, assuming a tight control of future internal promotion and selections, slowing down of estate and fleet repairs, reducing overtime and potentially grounding one helicopter are among the cuts the PSNI will seek to ratify quickly.

CC Byrne told the Board that he and SET colleagues will also be "looking radically" at which police stations will remain open, and also at opening hours more broadly.

However, a £43m gap is expected to remain even after these cost-cutting measures are taken. 

The finance and resource update included in the accountability report states that 'difficult choices will now be required', with further cuts expected to directly impact frontline services.

One service CC Byrne is determined to keep intact is the neighbourhood policing teams, who provide “two thirds of our counter-terrorism intelligence".

“Their footprint in communities is not just important for reassurance and visibility, but also part of our fight against terrorism," he said, adding that while the PSNI doesn't want to lose this offer to the public the force will have to "reconfigure it quite dramatically".

While the Police Federation for Northern Ireland (PFNI) was anticipating a bleak picture, confirmation of paused recruitment will further intensify fears that officer numbers are "unsustainable and irresponsible".

Speaking at last week's PFNI annual conference, Chair Liam Kelly said: "At the rate we’re witnessing right now, coupled with an inadequate budget, we could feasibly deplete to around 6,000 officers by the end of the financial year.

"That will be a new low, bearing in mind we are already at the lowest number of police officers since the PSNI came into existence in 2001."

CC Byrne told the Board on Thursday that paused recruitment will be kept under review because "the organisation could shrink faster than we've anticipated".

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