Inadequate policing budget hindering efforts to keep people safe

The DUP’s lead Policing Board representative Trevor Clarke MLA has warned that the continued failure to deliver an adequate budget for policing will see Northern Ireland trailing other regions of the United Kingdom in efforts to tackle crime and keep people safe.

On Thursday, a special session of the Policing Board was held to discuss the funding crisis facing the PSNI.

By Trevor Clarke MLA

South Antrim

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Commenting afterwards, the South Antrim DUP MLA said,

‘‘The crisis facing the policing budget in Northern Ireland is the direct result of underfunding by the Treasury over the last decade. Although the PSNI have worked tirelessly to keep a lid on many of the resulting pressures, this is no longer sustainable. The budget handed down by the Secretary of State will have an explosive and negative impact on operational policing in the coming months.

Despite the political commitment in NDNA to 7,500 police officers, numbers are falling and are forecasted to drop to 5,954 by March 2025. In the next two years, 854 officers will retire or leave the service, with only 204 being recruited in their place. All of this will lead to a Police Service that is smaller and less responsive. Investigating crime will inevitably take longer and important relationships and intelligence at a local level will be lost as neighbourhood teams shrink. Our communities are crying out for a visible and proactive police presence, yet the scale of this crisis means police vehicles and air support will be grounded because there simply isn’t the manpower to operate them.

Instead of using our public services as a punchbag to punish Unionists for their stance on the Protocol, the Secretary of State needs to recognise the growing injustice in how policing is valued and funded in Northern Ireland compared with other parts of the United Kingdom. While police officer numbers are at their highest ever recorded level in England and Wales because of extra investment, headcount in the PSNI is now at the lowest level since the Service was established.

The Government should accept that the funding formula for policing and other public services in Northern Ireland is failing our communities. For as long as we receive 3% of spending in England - rather than budgets that are based on need, pressures on frontline services will continue to rise. So much so that the Fiscal Council believe some services will eventually become undeliverable.

The Government has already conceded that there is a need to ensure Wales does not lose out under the Barnett Formula. That principle should apply equally Northern Ireland. In the meantime, the NIO and the Treasury needs to provide the financial firepower needed to avert the crisis facing the PSNI. We will not tolerate a situation in which police officers, victims of crime and the wider public in Northern Ireland are treated as second class citizens within the United Kingdom because of a failure to ensure policing receives a fair funding deal.

East Belfast DUP MLA and Policing Board representative Joanne Bunting added:

‘‘It is positive that Northern Ireland has the lowest recorded crime rate of similar police services in Great Britain. However, this has only been achieved through the dedication of rank-and-file officers who are increasingly tasked with doing more with fewer resources. With the introduction of a raft of new sexual and domestic offences, and continued pause on recruitment, these pressures will only increase in the coming weeks. Therefore, it is crucial that the PSNI’s response to the precarious financial situation it now finds itself in includes concrete actions for monitoring the impact of changes to the operating model on the health and wellbeing of officers and staff.

This morning at the Board I spoke with a number of serving and former officers who were understandably angry at the lack of progress with their applications for injury on duty and ill-health retirement. Some who were present had also lost loved ones who had in the Police Service to suicide. These stories are testament to the significant sacrifice that every officer makes by serving our community and putting themselves in harm’s way. Now more than ever it is essential that the needs and concerns of those who have served with distinction in the past, or who continue to do so today, are front and centre. The PSNI are understandably grappling with the impact of rising demand relating to vulnerability in our society. However, this should not be to the detriment of a focus on the welfare of those in their own ranks who carry the physical and emotional scars of serving in the Police Service in what is a hugely challenging and pressurised environment.’’

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