THE CHIEF Constable has warned that over £50 million of budget cuts will leave Northern Ireland wide open to criminals and terrorists.
Painting a gloomy picture of the future, George Hamilton told a meeting of the Policing Board today that it was his “professional assessment” that the cuts would leave the PSNI “unrecognisable”
“It is likely to mean a Service with virtually no preventative capability,” said the Chief Constable.
“Neighbourhood policing would be eliminated in all but a small number of the most vulnerable neighbourhoods.
“And as a Service we would be primarily focused on emergency response policing and serious harm policing to tackle the most dangerous threats.”
Here is the Chief Constable’s briefing in full to the Policing Board:
- At the outset of our monthly public meeting, I want to take a few minutes to make clear the realities of the financial challenges that we are facing.
- We are required to save £51.4 million in the next six months. This is over £5m more than what it takes to run our largest policing District for a year.
- You will have seen the media coverage over the release of 300 temporary workers on Tuesday. Let me put that in context. The release of these temporary workers will reduce costs by £2.1 million. It’s a drop in the ocean of what we have to achieve.
- Since I have been appointed (less than 100 days ago), I have been asked to deliver a 1.5% budget cut; then to plan for 3%; 4%; and 5% cuts; and then two weeks ago cuts of 7% in year were imposed. Aside from the scale of these cuts – the constantly changing picture makes planning how to make the savings unfeasible.
- Charged with responsibility for the protection of our community; I feel my organisation is being forced into a virtually impossible position.
- I have already notified the Permanent Secretary at the Department of Justice that, while we are taking all reasonable steps; at this point in time I am unable to provide full assurance that PSNI can deliver the required budget reductions and live within the revised budget.
POLICING IS CHANGING
- The level of cuts required will fundamentally change how and where policing is delivered in Northern Ireland. This change in policing will be seen and felt by the community.
- PSNI will be a smaller organisation – we will have less police officers; our ability to deliver will be reduced; and there will be harder choices as policing has to prioritise where to focus its efforts.
- There will be less visible frontline policing in communities.
- Policing will have to focus on where vulnerability and need is greatest. The operational outworking of such a pure demand led model is likely to adversely affect the level of reassurance that policing delivers in areas of lower demand, generally more rural areas.
- There will be longer waiting times for Police attendance to non-emergency calls
OUTLINE OF INITIAL DECISIONS AND THEIR IMPLICATIONS
- The level of cuts now being imposed means that 6963 police officers is no longer affordable. This has a direct impact on the current programme of recruitment. Competition two, which is currently running, will continue as the majority of the budgeted spend has already been invested. The intake of new officers will however be substantially slower. The plans for a third recruitment competition have been stopped.
- With recruitment plans significantly reduced, it is anticipated that Police officer headcount will decline over the next three years through retirements.
- External staff recruitment is on hold. Internal staff recruitment has also been put on hold. At present, the PSNI will have no capacity to fill any police staff post that becomes vacant.
- Over 300 temporary workers will not have their positions renewed beyond 31 December 2014. Just under 80 of these posts were involved in HET. The other posts were in a range of different disciplines across the organisation, many of which are core policing roles. Over the next three months, there will be significant movement from the frontline as staff and officers are moved to ensure that core but less visible policing posts are covered.
- Savings on this scale can only be delivered with reductions to current Managed Service Contract. We currently have the equivalent of 900 posts engaged through this contract – which includes Security Guards, CCTV operators, Custody Detention Officers, Transport Coordinators, Station Enquiry Assistants, Property Managers & Assistants. These are critical roles and for everyone released it is likely to mean one less officer on the frontline.
- Given the speed at which we are being asked to make these cuts, it is inevitable that we will be forced to put police officers into a number of back office functions – “reverse civilianisation” or “workforce demodernization.”
- We have committed to save £5.6 million from the overtime budget in the remainder of this financial year. This is the equivalent of 200 police officers over the next six months.
- In his peace monitoring report, Paul Nolan observed that policing had become “the shock absorbers for failures elsewhere.” Not only have we been shock absorbers in terms of holding the line between rival communities; we have also “shock absorbed” a huge amount of cost protecting life and maintaining order due to a lack of political and societal consensus.
- PSNI’s biggest over time spends have always been on responding to or preventing public disorder and addressing the severe threat of serious harm to communities from paramilitary groups.
- Overtime is also used on a nightly basis to manage interface tensions. At present in Belfast between 150 and 200 police officers are deployed nightly managing these issues.
- I understand that in hard financial terms, it is difficult to quantify value for money when the outcome of an expensive police operation is that normal order is maintained and the public are protected. Our frustration is how do you measure success, when success is that nothing happens?
- In the future, PSNI will be forced to absorb a greater degree of risk by considering reduced policing plans. However, the reality is, there is only so much risk that can be absorbed. Police operations have to be resourced in a way which is compliant with statutory duties, which not only include Section 32 of the Police Act; Article 2ECHR, but also the organisation’s responsibilities to its officers and staff under Health & Safety legislation and the Corporate Manslaughter Act.
- The significant reduction in overtime will mean delays to police operations which require additional police officer support and it is inevitable that there will be more regular abstraction of police officers from core policing duties across Northern Ireland.
Withdrawal from Community/Police Initiatives
- One of the most tangible outcomes of a Policing with the Community ethos was the funding of local policing and community initiatives.
- These projects were focused on supporting the most vulnerable in the community. Key examples include Women’s Aid, Criminal Justice Support Workers in our Public Protection Units and support to Community Restorative Justice.
- The PSNI remains committed to the principle of such community/police initiatives. However, for the moment, with limited financial flexibility; it is necessary to end future funding to this work.
Legacy / HET / Legacy Investigations Unit
- The loss of temporary workers by the end of the year will effectively mean the closure of HET. There are some people who were pleased by the news, while others have been greatly disappointed.
- If we are to achieve a safe, confident and peaceful future for our young people, dealing with the past is an issue that our society must address.
- I cannot solve this problem – this is one for the legislators.
- But I am clear that as Chief Constable, I have a number of statutory responsibilities which cannot and will not be ignored. These include the duty to investigate where there is new and compelling evidence; as well as our responsibilities in responding to the requirements of coronial inquests.
- The reality is that these obligations will be met with significantly reduced resources and therefore over a much longer period of time.
- For this reason it is incumbent on me to establish some form of Legacy Investigations Branch. I am happy to have an independent scrutiny panel examine the work of this unit, as recommended by the HMIC report into HET. This is however the responsibility of the Policing Board I await the Board’s intentions in this regard.
EARLY INDICATIONS FOR 2015-16 BUDGET
- I have recently received notification from the Department of Justice to assess the impact of cuts next year of between 10% and 15% against opening 2014-15 baselines.
- My initial professional assessment is that cuts of this level will mean a Police Service that is unrecognisable. It is likely to mean a Service with virtually no preventative capability; neighbourhood policing would be eliminated in all but a small number of the most vulnerable neighbourhoods; and as a Service we would be primarily focused on emergency response policing and serious harm policing to tackle the most dangerous threats.
- Cuts of this level are likely to require a redundancy programme for police staff as well as additional funding to run such a programme. We would also need to explore the feasibility of compulsory retirement for police officers.
- I and my officers and staff are charged with the duty of keeping people safe – this will remain our priority.
- These financial pressures will require the prioritisation of policing to an extent never experienced before in Northern Ireland. There are implications not only for the public and for my organisation, but also for many of the partner agencies with whom we work so closely.
- These decisions are too important to be left to the Police alone. I want to work with the Policing Board in deciding what police activity will be reduced or stopped.
- We are all public servants charged with a duty to produce a balanced budget. We must be ready to work together on behalf of the public we serve.