Police likely to have lowest level of officers in history by March 2023
The structure and operations of the PSNI are to undergo “dramatic changes” next year due to its reducing budget, the Northern Ireland Policing Board has heard.
Chief Constable Simon Byrne outlined “deep worry” about being able to maintain the police force’s level of service with a budget gap of more than £90 million, or £40 million after savings.
The monthly accountability report to the PSNI oversight body said that due to cuts required, by March 2023 there is likely to be the lowest level of police officers since the police service was formed.
Mr Byrne wrote in the report’s foreword: “Despite the actions I have taken alongside my service executive team, and the call for action to the Department of Justice, the Northern Ireland Policing Board and wider political parties, as accounting officer, I remain deeply worried about the ability to maintain policing service provision in a way that the people of Northern Ireland deserve.”
He added that he was “concerned about the increasing size of the financial gap, the rising cost base, the lack of clarity on budgets and the shortening timeframe to take what limited mitigating actions may be available to me”.
Mr Byrne told a public meeting of the policing board on Thursday that he had indicated his “stark opposition” to the scaling back of recruitment of police staff and officers, but also said that emergency services and serious crime investigations would continue.
Mr Byrne said: “You have our assurance that we will continue to manage the 999 service, to respond to emergencies and to investigate serious crime.
“But we’ll be able to come back to you with more detail in the next few weeks about what will look differently as the numbers of people we have to do their work shrinks.
“We are in active dialogue, particularly with the Department of Justice and the permanent secretary and minister, about issues, consequences, the impact of that so we’re making our voice heard.
“So in business speak, if you like, by next year you will see more dramatic changes to our structure, our operating model, etc. But at the moment, we’re managing within the as-is position.”
PSNI chief operating officer Pamela McCreedy said that it was “a difficult picture”.
“There has to be a recognition that we need certain skills on the frontline policing side of it.
“And we’re still recruiting this year… not at the speed that we would like to, and that means that the 2021 campaign won’t be effective as quickly as we would like. But we do need skills to support us.
“This is a significant and a huge business service change that we need undertake this year in the next couple of years, and we need to support the frontline operational officers and staff in taking that forward.
“I understand the concern of people (applying to join the force) not getting in as quickly as they would like to, but we do need to look at where we have the skills and capability to make sure we can deliver the service in an effective way.”
Mr Byrne added: “It’s not that we’ve got no money. We’ve just got a reducing budget and we’ve got to make discreet choices about where we think that post needs filling and where it doesn’t.”