The Northern Ireland Policing Board is to challenge the Government over a proposed £17m cut to the police service budget at a crunch meeting with the security minister, it has been announced.
Senior police officers will also attend the hastily arranged talks at Stormont later this month.
The NIO has written to the board calling for the cutbacks, which they said were required as a result of the economic crisis.
On top of the latest money saving request, the police service has already seen its budget cut by £71m last year and faces further cuts of £74m in the coming two years. Policing Board chair Barry Gilligan said the £17m cut would impact on frontline policing.
He added: “This £17m cut is not acceptable to this board and to the members of this board.”
At the board's monthly meeting in Belfast yesterday, Acting PSNI Chief Constable Judith Gillespie conceded that meeting the NIO request would be “difficult”.
Ms Gillespie said frontline policing could be hit if the police were not given more flexibility to manage the service's £1.2 billion-a-year budget.
She noted that 82% of the annual spend was already set in stone on outgoings such as salaries and pensions, and that most of the remaining 18% was also taken up with fixed costs.
“We are right down to the wire in terms of what we can cut into,” she said.
“If we don't have flexibility in our budget we are going to have great difficulty moving forward.”
She added: “If we don't have that flexibility there is no doubt that frontline services will suffer, so without that flexibility we are going nowhere.”
Board members have been angered not only by the request for more cutbacks but also at the suggestion from the NIO that if the board could not identify areas that could be trimmed, then government officials would attempt to do it for them.
The board's meeting with Security Minister Paul Goggins and senior police officers will take place on September 15.
The NIO said the requested cutback is part of the Government-wide initiative to save money.
“The Government has set itself a target of achieving £5 bn savings in the 2010/11 year as part of the response to the wider financial difficulties facing the economy,” said an NIO spokesman.
“That target will require NIO to make its share of savings and the PSNI are as much a part of that as anyone else.
“So in asking the PSNI to produce options for its share of the savings, they are undertaking the same work as everyone else.”
Ms Gillespie was also pressed on the much-debated police response to an illegal road block set up by dissident republicans in a village in south Armagh last month.
An unmarked police patrol came across the checkpoint in Meigh but withdrew from the scene over concerns of triggering a shoot-out with the masked men, who were apparently armed with rifles and a rocket launcher.
At the time outgoing chief Sir Hugh Orde backed the decision 100% and Ms Gillespie reaffirmed that stance. She said the road block had been set up in a populated area near a shop, pub and takeaway restaurant and any violent confrontation could have inflicted civilian casualties.
“I just want to make our position absolutely crystal clear,” she said. “Those officers involved, who were on routine patrol in the area, took completely the right course of action and we will defend that decision to all-comers.”