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Policing's £22m budget reprieve will 'avert a major crisis'

By Deborah McAleese

The PSNI has been given a £22m reprieve in its budget for this year, "narrowly averting a major crisis" for policing.

Rather than having to make savings of £30m before the end of the financial year, it will now have to cut "a more manageable" amount of around £8m.

The cash is a share of £150m to be diverted to a number of departments following the deal on implementing welfare reforms in Northern Ireland.

Finance Minister Simon Hamilton said the full details of where the money will be allocated will be revealed to the Assembly on Monday. However, the Belfast Telegraph understands that £22m of that cash will go to the PSNI.

There had been serious concern within the PSNI over the £30m that was expected to be saved before the end of March.

To meet budget pressures this year a number of civilian jobs were axed, police stations closed and recruitment placed on hold.

Policing Board member Jonathan Craig said the £22m for the PSNI is a massive relief for it.

"It is not the answer to all the problems, but it has helped to narrowly avert a major crisis. For the time being," the DUP man said.

He added: We actually have something realistic and more manageable to work with. It will help to ease the pressure on the PSNI and help keep the commitment to community-based policing.

"It also gives the Chief Constable a bit of a breathing space to prepare for next year's budget, which I do not anticipate will be as drastic as initially feared."

There is concern among PSNI command that cuts of up to £60m may have to be made in the next financial year.

Both the Chief Constable and Justice Minister have been warning against such drastic cuts.

Chief Constable George Hamilton has previously said it would have a "significant impact" on community policing, combating serious crime and legacy investigations, and would lead to a police service that was "unrecognisable".

He said in October that potential cuts were putting his force in a "virtually impossible position" and could leave it with "virtually no preventative capability".

The Department of Justice assessed that the likely impact of such savings "will have a severely detrimental impact on police presence, resilience and capacity (both police officers and police staff). This will likely result in the return to desk jobs of many officers who had been moved to frontline policing duties."

However, Jonathan Craig said: "I do not believe the budget is going to be anywhere near as bad as originally feared."

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