Latest blow to PSNI recruitment could ‘damage most vulnerable in society’

A budget shortfall that has scuppered the next intake of 85 PSNI recruits in March could lead to “very damaging outcomes for some of the most vulnerable in our society,” the Department of Justice (DoJ) has said.

By Mark Rainey
Friday, 21st January 2022, 9:26 pm
Police recruits march past a PSNI sign during a graduation ceremony. Photo: Stephen Davison/Pacemaker
Police recruits march past a PSNI sign during a graduation ceremony. Photo: Stephen Davison/Pacemaker

The News Letter understands that members of the policing board (NIPB) were informed on Friday by the DoJ that the decision to defer the training programme has been taken on a “precautionary basis”.

In March last year, the chief constable Simon Byrne warned the board that budget restraints risked leaving the PSNI up to 800 officers below the strength recommended in the Patten Report.

Last month, Mr Byrne told the board that the PSNI was facing a £180 million operating shortfall – a situation described by the police federation as “nothing short of scandalous”.

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On Friday night, a DoJ spokesperson said: “The Justice Minister has set out publicly her view that the draft budget would be damaging to the fabric of the justice system.

“The delivery of 7,500 officers was an unfinished commitment in NDNA. Whilst the minister secured funding to increase numbers last year, that progress would be reversed if the current draft budget were to be agreed.

“It is clear that, given around 70% of the justice budget is spent on policing, there will potentially be significant reductions in the numbers employed in policing and significant and detrimental impacts to key public services provided by the Justice system in order to live within the draft budget and that there would be very damaging outcomes for some of the most vulnerable in our society.”

The statement goes on to say: “It will be a matter for all five parties in the Executive to decide the final budget outcome, not the Justice Minister alone, and the minister has repeatedly made the consequences of the current draft explicit to Executive colleagues.”

The PSNI has assured NIPB members that measures are in place to accelerate future recruitment should the funds become available.

When contacted by the News Letter, DUP policing board member Jonathan Buckley said that Finance Minister Conor Murphy should make the funds available to ensure police numbers are increased.

“This is extremely worrying,” he said.

“Here we have, because of budgetary pressures, a failure to even recognise or move towards a NDNA (New Decade New Approach) commitment.

“We have many parties in the Assembly that want to shout about different, specific NDNA commitments, but when it comes to something as fundamental as policing they are falling well short of what is expected, and something that could be beneficial to all our communities.”

“The Finance Minister must urgently provide the funding to ensure this key Patten and NDNA is met.”

Mr Buckley added: “We need more police officers, not less. This key NDNA commitment has been thrown to the wayside and needs to be addressed urgently.

“We warned about the proposed Sinn Fein budget and other parties need to recognise this.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Finance said it is up to individual ministers to decide how their budget is allocated.

“Given the constrained funding available, prioritising health does present significant challenges for other departments. Nevertheless the Draft Budget sets aside £14.8 million for each of the budget years for police staffing.

“It is up to ministers to decide how to prioritise their departmental budgets,” she said.

“The Draft Budget is currently out for consultation and we would encourage people to respond to the public consultation and help shape public services for the next three years.”

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