Northern Ireland’s police chief has raised the prospect of him introducing a pay rise for his officers without securing the money to fund it.
Jon Boutcher acknowledged that such a step could prompt a formal sanction for breaching his responsibilities as an accounting officer for the PSNI’s budget.
He made clear he first wanted to exhaust negotiations with Stormont departments and the Government to secure the estimated £20 million required for the recommended 7% rise for officers.
“We need this organisation to be properly funded and we need to pay our officers the 7% increase recommended by the Pay Review Board,” he said.
“They deserve it and I am determined that they’re going to get it.”
Mr Boutcher made the comments as he warned members of the Policing Board in Belfast that the PSNI was at a “tipping point” and was on course to see officer headcount drop below 6,000 for the first time in early 2025 if action was not taken to put the organisation on a more sustainable footing.
The recently appointed police chief also vowed to start a new recruitment drive for officers in April, despite the PSNI’s financial difficulties.
The recommended officer number for the PSNI is 7,500.
The service is facing a budget shortfall of £52.5 million this financial year – a figure that includes the funds needed to introduce the 7% pay rise.
DUP board member Trevor Clarke had asked Mr Boutcher how he intended to deliver the rise, given the Government had not offered extra money to pay for it.
The chief constable replied: “I feel my responsibilities as an accounting officer are very important. I need to explain how every pound note is spent, the PSNI need to know how it’s spent, where it’s spent, why it’s spent, so I can demonstrate my due diligence for my accounting officer responsibilities to anybody, including this board, the Department of Finance and Department of Justice.”
But he added that Northern Ireland faced a “unique policing context” and the PSNI could not countenance a further fall in office numbers.
“We are losing police officers because they can’t afford to be police officers,” he said.
“So, this is for political parties here, the Executive here, it’s for the Treasury, it’s for the Home Secretary, for the Prime Minister, it’s for everybody – for us to make this case so that something might shift what is at the moment a logjam.
“And, if it comes to a point where I have to step into a position where I am breaching my accounting officer responsibilities, and the (Policing) board and the Department of Justice and the Department of Finance decide that they may have to sanction me, then we’ll get into that territory if we need to. So that’s the way this is going.”
Mr Clarke described Mr Boutcher’s stance as “bold”.
“So, given they (officers) have been waiting so long, why not breach it now, why wait, what are you waiting on?” the DUP representative asked.
“Because you’ve had your answer from the Secretary of State (Chris Heaton-Harris), you know all the political parties in Northern Ireland support your position and indeed support the officers with the 7% to bring them into parity with the rest of the UK?
“But that’s a very bold statement you’ve just made, so why not just breach the authority now and actually pay that and actually you’d be like Santa Claus coming to Christmas.”
Mr Boutcher replied: “That’s why you are a politician who can say things like that and I’m a police chief constable and I have to make sure this organisation continues and is funded.
“I’m saying that’s my intention to do. I’m setting out the way this is going to come forward in the future. That’s what I’m doing. I’m not going to be irresponsible, I’m very conscious of the public purse. I’m setting out the reality of the position. And I’m going to set out – if that doesn’t result in anything that changes – the next steps.
“I’ve done that a little bit in the answer to your last question, so that’s the responsible thing to do.”