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PSNI rejects David Ford overtime ban call as marching season begins

By Deborah McAleese

Published 20/06/2015

Justice Minister David Ford
Justice Minister David Ford

Police chiefs have told the Justice Minister they won't ban overtime as desperate steps are taken in a bid to save cash.

The PSNI has been asked to stop its overtime spend during its busiest time of the year as a financial crisis engulfs policing in Northern Ireland.

David Ford has ordered an immediate suspension of discretionary spending - which includes police overtime, subsistence and training.

A Policing Board member has warned that if overtime is halted "the consequences will be catastrophic", especially during the marching season, which kicked off last night.

The PSNI relies heavily on overtime to cover times of surge in demand, such as parades and public order situations. Tens of millions of pounds in overtime are spent every year.

It is understood PSNI chiefs have told the Department of Justice (DoJ) they will not halt police overtime as it would lead to a "dysfunctional" service.

The DoJ said that "in the context of ongoing financial issues facing the Executive, the department's accounting officer has taken the responsible step of asking all its spending areas to suspend any discretionary spend and only continue to fund inescapable or contractual commitments".

The DoJ added, however, that where there was "a significant impact on the justice system or public safety, the department and Justice Minister will consider this before agreeing the next steps."

Policing Board member Jonathan Craig said it would be "insane" to cut overtime.

"If we had no police overtime the consequences would be catastrophic.

"I can't see how the department could insist on it," the DUP MLA said.

He added: "This is the situation Sinn Fein has left us in by not signing up to welfare reform and leaving us with massive financial penalties."

Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris said correspondence was received from DoJ "directing that discretionary spending should be suspended due to ongoing financial uncertainty". He added that "whilst no potential financial cuts have been quantified at this time, it has been decided that all non-essential spending should cease until further notice."

The suspension of discretionary spending also means that the Policing Board can no longer afford its independent human rights adviser.

The board has a statutory duty to monitor the performance of the PSNI in complying with the Human Rights Act and a human rights adviser assists the performance committee to monitor the policing of public order events.

However, the human rights adviser is categorised as being a discretionary expenditure, and therefore can no longer be paid for.

"The board has lost its human rights adviser because of this financial mess. The financial crisis that we are seeing at Stormont has now hit policing. The Policing Board is now both toothless and ineffective.

"They can't even get their windows cleaned. That's how bad it is," said Mr Craig.

Story so far

In a bid to address financial pressures the Department of Justice has asked all policing and justice bodies to suspend any discretionary spend and only to fund inescapable or contractual commitments. Police overtime and training fall into the discretionary category. The PSNI has made the case to the DoJ that it could not function without overtime, particularly during the marching season. The Policing Board's human rights adviser also falls within this category. The board has a statutory duty to monitor the performance of the PSNI in complying with the Human Rights Act.

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