Belfast Telegraph

Minister vows to protect police budget from cuts

By Deborah McAleese

Just three days after Chief Constable Matt Baggott pleaded with the Government to “please, please” not cut his funds, it has emerged that the Justice Minister is to protect the PSNI’s budget.

David Ford is also lobbying for additional security money from the Treasury to help tackle the terrorist threat.

The Justice Department is facing a £200m reduction in resources over the next four years, but policing looks set to escape the worst of the budget cull.

Department officials have told the Justice Committee that it is Mr Ford’s “overriding priority” to secure additional funding for the PSNI and retain funding for all frontline policing.

“We are going forward with a priority to protect police funding and also looking for additional money from the Treasury,” the department’s director of resources Anthony Harbinson told the Justice Committee yesterday.

Mr Harbinson warned that the PSNI will not completely escape from having to make savings, but said that these savings will be kept to a minimum.

The PSNI had been asked to consider budget cuts of between 5% and 8%, sparking serious concern about the impact such drastic funding reductions could have on the capabilities of the force in tackling dissident republican terrorism, day to day crime, international crime gangs and dealing with legacy issues.

“Thankfully, in terms of the overall savings, it looks as though we do not have to go anywhere near that sort of level for the police,” Mr Harbinson said.

Earlier this week Mr Baggott told a public meeting in Bangor that this was not the time to be cutting police resources, and said that the force has faced enough cuts over the past decade.

The minister remains committed to the building of the new training college for the police, prison and fire services at Desertcreat, outside Cookstown, the committee was told.

However, £30m of the funding for the project is to come from the Department of Health.

If Michael McGimpsey’s department opts out of providing its share of the funds, Mr Harbinson said the project will have to be “seriously redesigned” and warned that this could cause considerable delay.

Another priority for the department is new accommodation for Forensic Science Northern Ireland, Mr Harbinson said.

In March the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee warned that forensic science here must not be compromised by cuts, to ensure it can provide the service needed to cope with modern policing.

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