Northern Ireland

Policing budget cuts 'impossible', says George Hamilton

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Media captionGeorge Hamilton said the PSNI is being forced into a "virtually impossible position".

Northern Ireland's chief constable has said budget cuts are forcing his organisation into a virtually impossible position.

George Hamilton said cuts to the Police Service of Northern Ireland budget would "fundamentally change how and where policing is delivered".

Cutbacks are delaying Police Ombudsman investigations into allegations of serious crime by the police.

The PSNI is also closing more than 300 temporary agency posts.

The cuts will "effectively mean the closure" of the Historical Enquiries Team (HET), which investigates Troubles-era killings.

Mr Hamilton told the board on Thursday that police had to save £51.4m in the next six months.

"Since I have been appointed [less than 100 days ago], I have been asked to deliver a 1.5% budget cut, then to plan for 3%, 4%, and 5% cuts, and then two weeks ago cuts of 7% in year were imposed," he said.

"Aside from the scale of these cuts, the constantly changing picture makes planning how to make the savings unfeasible.

"Charged with responsibility for the protection of our community, I feel my organisation is being forced into a virtually impossible position."

Mr Hamilton said he had notified the permanent secretary at the Department of Justice that at this point he was "unable to provide full assurance" that the PSNI could "deliver the required budget reductions and live within the revised budget".

"The level of cuts required will fundamentally change how and where policing is delivered in Northern Ireland. This change in policing will be seen and felt by the community," he warned.

"The PSNI will be a smaller organisation - we will have less police officers; our ability to deliver will be reduced; and there will be harder choices as policing has to prioritise where to focus its efforts."

He said the level of cuts meant 6,963 police officers was "no longer affordable" and would have a "direct impact" on recruitment, with the intake of new officers "substantially slower" and plans for a third phase of recruitment stopped.

Mr Hamilton said he had to assess the impact of cuts in the next financial year of between 10% and 15%.

"My initial professional assessment is that cuts of this level will mean a police service that is unrecognisable," he said.

"It is likely to mean a service with virtually no preventative capability, neighbourhood policing would be eliminated in all but a small number of the most vulnerable neighbourhoods and as a service we would be primarily focused on emergency response policing and serious harm policing to tackle the most dangerous threats."

The Police Federation said the proposed cuts were a "recipe for disaster with damaging consequences on levels of service, officer safety, rank-and-file morale and operational capability".

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