Editor's Viewpoint: Policing cuts must reflect our needs
The Chief Constable, Matt Baggott, makes a very fair defence of his current budget and staffing levels in his submission to the new Justice Department.
Having looked carefully at the operational demands on the force, he believes that he needs all of the current 7,500 regular officers, and accepts that a budget cut of 2.5% could be absorbed, albeit with a lot of pain. Any deeper cuts would place effective policing in jeopardy.
This newspaper has repeatedly questioned if the Westminster coalition government really understood the economic needs of Northern Ireland when it was drawing up its plans to drastically reduce public spending. It is not a question of exempting the province from cuts, but of taking into account its historic dependence on the public sector, and how draconian reductions in the public purse could tip the economy into recession. Funding the police service is part of that equation. It is doubtful if there is another force in any region of the UK which faces the daunting challenges that are put before the PSNI.
First and foremost is the threat from dissident republicans, who, at the weekend, injured three children in what appears to be a deliberate attempt to lure police officers into a bomb trap. The intelligence network needed to thwart the terrorists is expensive to maintain. There are also the annual demands of the marching season, which imposes a heavy burden to keep rival groups apart. That is on top of the normal policing duties of combating highly-organised criminal gangs dealing in drugs, smuggled fuel, and counterfeit goods.
Of course there are areas in which the power-sharing administration at Stormont must ensure to spend public money wisely. There is obvious waste within government departments, and duplication of expenditure in a divided society. In the Justice Department, the Minister David Ford must look to see how to trim the legal aid bill and administrative costs. Public spending cuts in Northern Ireland are as inevitable as in any other region, but they should be tailored to the needs of the province, and not just imposed by formula.