A planned increase in the number of police officers in Northern Ireland is not affordable because of tight budgets, a policing watchdog has said.
The PSNI wants to bring the number of officers to 6,963 and is facing a severe threat from dissident republicans and potential disorder over parades.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) said the service had yet to reconcile the drive to grow numbers with separate efforts to reduce the number of posts at district levels and warned of a £104 million funding gap by 2018/19.
A report from the inspectorate said: “The planned growth in officers and staff is not affordable within the projected budget beyond 2014/15.”
HMIC said the PSNI had not yet moved to an operating model which could be funded by its allocated budget.
“Without a clearer understanding of the demands that the PSNI faces, it is hard for the force to identify its resource requirements and how these can be organised most effectively within an affordable operating model,” the report stated.
“The PSNI has yet to reconcile the efficiency programme, Service First, which aims to reduce the number of police officer posts for district policing, with the resilience and capability review which recommends a strength of 6,963 police officers.
“Without clarity about the future operating model, it is difficult for the PSNI to be consistent when communicating with staff about the shift in culture that is needed to support change or to affect the shift that is needed.”
The current operating model is predicated on police officer strength of 6,963 (6,693 from the main grant; 260 through a special security fund and 10 others) which means the force has a projected budget deficit for this year and beyond, the HMIC report said..
Chief constable George Hamilton has told the Policing Board by April next year officer numbers would be down to 6,770 and the PSNI was losing more officers than it could replace.
The review added: “Additional cost pressures such as absorbing the cost of HET (which has been closed down), and potential in-year reductions complicate the financial outlook.”
The Police Federation has called on PSNI managers to appoint 1,000 new officers to combat the security threat posed by dissidents and loyalist and republican rioters.
Last year’s marching season passed off relatively peacefully.
Orange Order grand master Edward Stevenson has called for peaceful and legal protests across Northern Ireland over disputed parades this year.
The HMIC report, PSNI: Responding to Austerity, said the force’s financial planning was based on the assumption of growth in officer and staff numbers and on a continuing flat budget.
The Stormont House Agreement allowed the passing of a budget for next year by the Assembly but Sinn Fein has withdrawn from linked legislation on welfare reform which may jeopardise the deal.
HMIC said a residual funding gap of £104 million was envisaged in 2018/19 and additional in-year savings requirements this year had placed more pressure on the service’s finances and planning.
The PSNI had made significant reductions in cost through rationalising the estate, from procurement, and from ICT contacts, the report said.
“Although the PSNI has achieved a balanced budget over the spending review, while work is ongoing, it has not yet moved to an operating model which can be funded by its allocated budget,” it stated.
“The PSNI has a clear focus within its business support functions of a culture of cost reduction and continuous improvement led both by managers and by the budget planning processes.”
In 2014/15 the PSNI identified savings of £14 million from non-pay costs.
Inspector of Constabulary Mike Cunningham said the force faced a significant challenge to meet future spending cuts while improving its service to the people of Northern Ireland.
“There is more the force can do to ensure it is working as efficiently as possible,” he said.
“The PSNI should develop a greater understanding of demand, and a sustainable policing model, which meets the needs of the public.
“I will monitor the progress the PSNI makes against the recommendations in these reports, and expect to see improvements.”
He said he was impressed with the accuracy of PSNI crime recording, commenting that it was one of the strongest in this area compared to forces in England and Wales.
“The public can have faith that the PSNI’s approach to recording crime allows the force to focus its resources in the right areas,” he concluded.
The report said: “This is down to strong leadership in this area, and a positive attitude amongst officers and staff.
“Frequent independent, internal audits on crime recording help the force to comply with the Home Office Counting Rules.”