Concerns as Chief Constable reveals further six per cent budget cuts

Chief Constable George Hamilton
Chief Constable George Hamilton

Concerns have been raised after Chief Constable George Hamilton announced that the PSNI is facing a further 6% cut in its budget - totalling around £40.5 million.

The news comes after Mr Hamilton this week apologised after a Twitter exchange in which he advised a junior officer who claimed to be suffering stress that he should consider leaving the PSNI.

The exchange prompted an outpouring of claims from rank and file officers that they are suffering excessive stress due to under-staffing.

In a statement, the Chief Constable said: “We have to live within our budget and find savings. In the last five years the police budget has been cut by over a quarter of a billion pounds, which equates to salary costs of over 1,000 officers.

“Our police staff, who are critical to delivering policing in Northern Ireland, have also been reduced by over 300 through the Voluntary Exit Scheme. In addition, I’ve been asked by the Department of Justice to look at further cuts for next year of up to 6% which is around £40.5m.”

On Wednesday the News Letter asked Justice Minister Claire Sugden and the PSNI what they were doing to secure funds to bring the PSNI up to the Patten standard of 7,500 officers - some 600 higher of current levels.

Ms Sugden told the News Letter: “I am committed to providing the Chief Constable with the resources he needs to keep the community safe. He and I maintain regular contact on these issues.”

But UUP MLA Doug Beattie called on the Chief Constable to publicly reject the latest proposed cuts.

“I welcome these comments by the Chief Constable - but he now needs to be saying ‘no - with the level of resources you are giving me I cannot do the job’” the MLA said.

A Policing Board spokeswoman said it will discuss the cuts with the Chief Constable and “any pressures facing the service will be highlighted to the Department of Justice/NI Executive”.

The Policing Board added that acceptable staffing levels had been independently reviewed in 2013 and cut to 7000 officers.

In a statement to the News Letter last night, the Chief Constable George Hamilton said: “Since the start of my tenure as Chief Constable I have been very forthright in speaking out on the implications of cuts to the police budget. However, I also recognise that all public services are being asked to deliver on efficiencies and as accounting officer I take my responsibility seriously.

“We are currently at the start of a budget planning process where we have been invited to scenario plan for up to a 6% cut. Part of that exercise will give me the opportunity to outline the risks and opportunities of any future reductions to police funding and already the PSNI have identified potential implications of further cuts. Ultimately however the matter of budget cuts are political decisions.

“The recent HMIC report provides helpful commentary on the PSNI’s capacity with regard to current and future policing demands and while officer numbers are an important part of any assessment process they are only one element. The use of managed services, investment in technology and more agile working practices are all examples of other components of capability that will be considered in the budget planning process.

“That said I am mindful of the significant pressures which officers are currently under and the impact that this can have on their personal and family lives, something which has been demonstrated in public discussion in the past week. With this in mind the PSNI will continue to do all possible with the funding available to maximise police numbers and alleviate the unique pressures of being a police officer in Northern Ireland.”