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Editorial: PSNI budget shortfall alarming

WE have sadly become accustomed to stories of underfunding of hospitals and schools and the damaging consequences for health and wellbeing in our society.

It is therefore worrying to hear details of the extent of financial pressures facing another crucial public service and the likely impact of cutbacks on people's lives.

The PSNI has confirmed a freeze on officer recruitment as it faces a budget shortfall of almost £60 million.

A batch of 51 new recruits due to begin training next month will be the last taken on during this financial year. More than 100 others ready to start will not do so.

The force currently has 6,800 officers, well short of the 7,500 envisaged by the Patten report more than two decades ago when it set out what a new post-conflict police service for Northern Ireland should look like.

The New Decade, New Approach agreement which restored the power-sharing executive in January 2020 also included a commitment to increase police numbers to that figure.

Instead, retirements and other departures are likely to mean the total decreases rather than increases over the coming months.

The PSNI is currently facing a budget shortfall of £59 million and, with rising fuel, utility and other costs ,it is feared it could climb as high as £90m.

It is not yet known how this will impact on services but it could mean fewer stations, patrols or police units.

The Policing Board has written to the justice minister to make the case for more funding.

The Police Federation, representing officers, has said they are already operating under intolerable pressures and expecting to do more with less "is a recipe for service-wide breakdown".

Similar warnings have been made in relation to other public services and are borne of the same problem of underinvestment over many years.

That this took place under successive devolved administrations is an indictment of the quality of government provided by our politicians since the optimism surrounding the Good Friday Agreement and Patten report almost a quarter of a century ago.

While the shortfall facing by the PSNI is relatively small in terms of the overall Northern Ireland budget, it will prove particularly difficult to find in the absence of an executive and during a cost-of-living crisis.

It is yet another compelling reason for the DUP to suspend its protocol protest and return to Stormont to deal with the much more pressing needs of our population.

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