Police body costs must be reviewed
By any standards the cost to the public purse of funding the Northern Ireland Policing Board is extraordinarily high, far outstripping the budgets of comparable bodies in England and Scotland.
In times of plenty a decade ago when the Board was established it was a price that was not only worth paying but also tolerable. Today the squeeze on public funds, coupled with the financial demands of tackling the dissident terrorist threat, means the Board's budget must be scrutinised.
That does not reflect on either its work or on its members, who are performing a courageous role and who deserve commendation for their public service. The Board is a vital part in the establishment of public confidence in policing, drawing members from right across the political spectrum as well as those of independent views. Its role in holding the PSNI to account helps to stifle complaints about unaccountability that dogged the RUC.
A large part of the Board's budget goes towards District Policing Partnerships where the public can interact directly with local police commanders. However, many of these meetings are poorly attended and it can be argued that the political representatives on the Board already give the public an adequate conduit to the police. The Board and its district off-shoots were set up to address legacy issues and create a new confidence in policing. That has been achieved by and large and perhaps a more cost-effective model can evolve.
The Board says it is committed to reducing its running costs by £1.5m over the next four years and this is a welcome move. However any scrutiny of the Board's operations must go deeper than that. Does it need the huge raft of support staff which it currently has? Certainly, as a stand-alone body, it needs more support than Boards in other parts of the UK which have council back-up, but streamlining is still an option. The one certainty is that more funding is required for front-line policing and the Board's budget cannot be exempt from close examination.