Security Minister Paul Goggins will this evening be told that plans to cut £17m from the PSNI’s budget are “unacceptable”.
The message will be conveyed in a meeting to be attended by Acting Chief Constable Judith Gillespie and Policing Board chairman Barry Gilligan amid fears that the planned budget squeeze will damage frontline services at a highly sensitive time.
The dissident republican threat to officers has been officially described as severe following a bomb discovery in Forkhill, Co Armagh, and attacks on a PSNI officer’s family in Londonderry.
There is also continuing controversy over police station closures. A plan to dispose of 26 stations across Northern Ireland was narrowly approved by the Policing Board last month despite unionist opposition.
Meanwhile, concern over future funding arrangements remains one of the potential hurdles holding up the devolution of policing and justice powers from the Northern Ireland Office to the Assembly.
Today’s meeting is scheduled to be held in the early evening within the Stormont estate.
Speaking ahead of the discussions, Mr Gilligan said the £17m cut being sought by the NIO for 2010/11 would be on top of multi-million pound savings already planned.
The board chairman said: “The PSNI has already been required to deal with significant funding pressures during the period in relation to costs outside of the Chief Constable's control like substantial increases in hearing loss claims, without additional financial support. The Acting Chief Constable advised that the PSNI has already made savings of up to £71m over the period of 2007/08 and going forward for the next three years has cuts to deliver of £74m.”
Mr Gilligan said the further £17m reduction “is causing great concern because of the impact it could have on frontline policing”.
He added: “This is unacceptable to board members and the chairman, who has urgently requested this meeting with the Security Minister and the Acting Chief Constable.
“At this high level meeting the board will be discussing what options PSNI has to deliver such savings.
“The board is very concerned that cuts of this nature will impact upon service delivery and adversely effect community confidence in policing. Members are adamant that this cannot happen.”
A Northern Ireland Office spokesman said: “The meeting with the PSNI and Policing Board provides a valuable opportunity to discuss the future resourcing of the PSNI including the Government's request that options be produced to realise £17m efficiencies in the next financial year.
“It should be seen in the context that the Government has set itself a target of achieving £5bn savings in the 2010/11 year as part of the response to the wider financial difficulties facing the economy. That target will require Northern Ireland to make its share of savings and the PSNI are as much a part of that as anyone else.
“The Government will not tell the PSNI how to make its savings, but the discussion will address how the PSNI and the board can make the best possible use of resources. The discussion will take account of the dissident threat and the PSNI's recent strategic review.”
This strategic review, which was recently leaked, highlighted concerns within the police about the time officers are being required to spend in stations on paperwork.
Dissidents: the deadly timetable
Six months ago, dissident republicans brought murder back onto Northern Ireland’s streets.
March 7: Sappers Patrick Azimkar and Mark Quinsey were shot dead collecting pizza at Antrim’s Massereene barracks.
March 9: Two nights later, PSNI Constable Stephen Carroll was shot dead in Craigavon.
August 21: The Real IRA staged a sinister show of strength in Meigh in south Armagh. Armed and masked men were seen stopping vehicles and handing out anti-PSNI leaflets. One was reported to have been holding a rocket launcher while |others were brandishing machine-guns. A police patrol withdrew from the area.
September 8: The determination of dissident groupings to kill was again underlined just last week when a massive 600lb bomb was discovered in Forkhill, Co Armagh. It is believed to have been the work of splinter grouping Oglaigh na hEireann and to have been designed for a police patrol.
September 11: The family of a PSNI officer was targeted by the Real IRA in Derry. A device exploded under his parents’ vehicle and a pipe-bomb was discovered outside his sister’s home.
Analysis by David Gordon
PSNI has a stronger argument than mostTHE £17m funding cuts row has erupted at a crucial juncture for policing in Northern Ireland.
New Chief Constable Matt Baggott is due to arrive next week to officially take up his post.
Up at Stormont, meanwhile, the |debate about devolution of policing and justice — and how it will be financed — continues to occupy minds.
Out on the beat the continuing threat from dissident republicans has been underlined in recent days by the attacks on a police officer’s family in Londonderry and the discovery of a massive bomb in Forkhill.
The Northern Ireland Office points out that the projected £17m cut is simply the PSNI’s share of a £5bn efficiencies drive being introduced for next year across the UK.
Imposed on all Government departments by Chancellor Alistair Darling, this push will come on top of pre-existing cost-cutting targets.
It’s a safe bet that the PSNI’s £17m headache is just an early symptom of a condition that is going to affect |all public sector organisations in Northern Ireland. Money is starting to get tighter and even tougher times are expected within the next few years.
It’s fanciful to believe that front-line services will not feel the effects.
However, the PSNI has stronger |arguments than most on its side in countering Treasury demands, particularly at the current time.
Public confidence is the key, and not just on the issue of tackling the present dissident menace. People in republican areas who signed up to support for policing will want to see a PSNI that delivers. The same goes in working class loyalist districts. Delivery in these communities means results on the ground — on tackling scourges like drug-dealing, anti-social behaviour and under-age drinking.
In the past people often turned to paramilitaries for a twisted form of summary “justice”. The challenge for the PSNI is now to fill that vacuum — in case other, more sinister forces start filling it instead.
This is really not the moment for short-term penny pinching.