Belfast Telegraph

Police overtime bill soars to £125k a day in Northern Ireland amid fears over shortfall in officers

By Adrian Rutherford

The PSNI is spending £125,000 a day on overtime as it struggles to plug gaps in its workforce, shocking figures reveal.

The bill is on course to reach nearly £50m this year. In some cases individual officers are drawing more than £40,000 a year in overtime on top of their normal salary. It has led to warnings that the PSNI's staffing levels are insufficient.

Mark Lindsay, who chairs the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, said there was a "crying need" for more officers.

The PSNI's spending on overtime was disclosed after a Freedom of Information request by the Belfast Telegraph.

It shows:

  • In the 12 months to last April, a total of £45.5m was spent on overtime - equivalent to £124,730 a day;
  • Over 1,787,400 hours of extra work were recorded in that time;
  • In the six months from April to September 2017, the bill rose by a further £24m, with almost 814,000 extra hours clocked up;
  • At the current rate of spending, the PSNI overtime bill will hit £48m this financial year - the highest total for four years;
  • One officer worked an astonishing 1,759 hours of overtime last year - equivalent to 73 24-hour days. Another worked 1,569 extra hours;
  • An officer claimed £44,555 in overtime last year, another claimed £44,318 and a third earned £42,393.

The PSNI said the highest overtime payments were for a "very few" specialist officers.

Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris said budget cuts and political uncertainty meant it was difficult to recruit more officers.

He expects officer numbers to drop by 100 in the next financial year, leaving around 6,600. That is well below the 7,000 officers which Chief Constable George Hamilton previously stated he needs to police Northern Ireland effectively.

The Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers, said there was an urgent need for more officers.

"Obviously officers worked the hours to justify the overtime payments," Mr Lindsay said.

"If there wasn't a need for officers to be on shift, then the overtime bill would be a lot less, but there is a crying need as they tackle the full range of crime and terrorism in Northern Ireland.

"Overtime isn't the best way to maintain a police service to the public, but it has to be used as a last resort when you don't have the numbers on the ground to maintain normal work patterns.

"The issue for us is the fact that we have too few officers working excessive hours and shifts. They go the extra mile at some considerable cost to themselves and their families and, yes, that involves overtime, but there's no other option open to them."

In the 2016/17 financial year, covering the 12 months up to March 31 last year, a total of 1,787,406 extra hours were worked. The total bill was £45,526,927.

The three highest individual overtime claims were 1,759 hours (worth £44,555); 1,569 hours (£44,318) and 1,558 hours (£42,393).

The average salary in Northern Ireland for full-time employees is around £26,000.

In the first half of the current financial year, from April to September, the overtime bill stands at £24,032,851 - relating to 813,835 hours.

Ulster Unionist MLA Alan Chambers said the figures are proof that current PSNI staffing levels are insufficient.

Mr Chambers, a former RUC part-time reservist, said: "We have always maintained that staffing should reflect the figure first envisaged by the Patten Report, which set the PSNI staffing figure at 7,500.

"It should also be remembered that the Patten Report also recommended that there should be an enlarged Part Time Reserve of up to 2,500 officers.

"Given that the PSNI's own website says it has 6,689 officers as at February 1, 2018, it does not take a mathematical genius to work out the shortfall, nor should it come as a surprise that there is such a large overtime bill.

"What is needed is more officers, plain and simple. The ongoing political impasse and the consequent lack of a policing board is obviously not helping the situation."

SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly said the PSNI's staffing situation needed urgent review.

"People will be shocked by these figures and will question how such an overtime bill can be clocked up," she said.

"I would question why the money can be found for overtime, and yet the PSNI is unable to recruit additional officers."

Mr Harris, defending the PSNI's overtime bill, said: "In the last four years we've taken £160m out of the police budget so against that uncertainty it's difficult to keep your recruitment going."

Belfast Telegraph

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