Belfast Telegraph

Policing fears as PSNI hit by £15m cuts over welfare logjam

By Deborah McAleese

The PSNI is to lose an additional £15m from its budget this year as a result of welfare reform penalty charges.

Police bosses are now desperately trying to find areas to make cuts without damaging front line services.

Members of the Police Federation and the Policing Board have warned that the health and safety of officers is under threat because of the multi-million pound reduction. The money is to be taken from the police budget as part of reductions across all departments to cover penalty charges imposed because of the Northern Ireland Executive's failure to agree a Welfare Bill.

The fresh policing cuts come on top of £135m of savings the PSNI was ordered to make within the current Comprehensive Spending Review period, which ends in 2015.

Policing Board member Jonathan Craig warned that the loss of £15m will have a "serious impact" on the PSNI's ability to recruit new officers.

Recently a review of the force's strength concluded that a minimum of 7,000 officers were needed to have a "resilient PSNI" and recruitment was reopened in a bid to hire 700 new constables over the next few years. Mr Craig said, however: "This cut will have a serious impact on the ability to recruit new officers.

"Further money being removed from the budget will put huge pressure on the existing police officers within the force.

"The police force is sitting at almost 6,500 at present. Further reductions pose serious concerns about health and safety of officers. It is critical we get these numbers built up. It is hard to see a way out of this without reducing numbers. This is financial pressure which could have been avoided."

Police Federation chairman Terry Spence said he was "deeply concerned" about further cuts, particularly in light of an escalating terrorist threat. He said: "We have now seen another change of tactics by dissident republicans where they mounted an attack on a hotel, which is a civilian target.

"We had the bomb attack last November outside the Victoria Centre in Belfast. They are replicating what was done by the Provisional IRA.

"I think the escalation and increased sophistication and capability of the terrorists is deeply troubling and we need more finances to deal with that, not less."

Westminster passed welfare reform legislation in February 2013, but the Northern Ireland Executive has still not agreed the Bill, and £5m a month penalty charges came into effect in January.

Factfile

The PSNI was ordered to make £135m of savings within the current four-year Comprehensive Spending Review period, which ends in 2015. Now an additional £15m is to be taken from the PSNI budget this year to help Stormont departments pay welfare reform penalty charges. It is feared, due to the fresh cuts, the PSNI may not be able to recruit the full 700 new constables needed to bring the organisation up to its minimum recommended strength of 7,000 officers.

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