Northern Ireland

NI budget: Warning of 'severe' cuts to police, prisons and probation

David Ford
Image caption David Ford is the latest executive minister to lay out plans for how his department will deal with the 2015/16 budget cuts

Northern Ireland's Department of Justice has warned that proposed cuts to its budget will have a "severely detrimental impact" on policing.

It also said it would affect Troubles investigations, prisons, and result in fewer probation officers, reducing "the ability to monitor offenders".

David Ford is the latest minister to lay out plans for how his department will deal with the 2015/16 budget cuts.

The plans show that the department will have to make total cuts of 6%.

However, some funding that goes to the Police Service of Northern Ireland for anti-terror activities cannot be redistributed across other areas.

That means that the average cut across all activities is close to 9%.

The decision has been made to heavily cut so-called "core directorates", which is mainly back office work.

These directorates are facing a cut of almost 22%, which it is understood would equate to 400 jobs.

Further jobs will go in the department's agencies.

'Frontline policing'

Several justice agencies are facing significant budget reductions and the department said it would affect their ability to provide services.

The details of the proposed cuts were outlined in a public consultation document published on the Department of Justice (DOJ) website.

The document stated that one of the DOJ's key priorities was the protection of frontline policing "as far as possible".

However, as it assessed the likely impact of the savings it has been asked to make, the department warned: "Cuts will have a severely detrimental impact on police presence, resilience and capacity (both police officers and police staff).

"This will likely result in the return to desk jobs of many officers who had been moved to frontline policing duties."

Image copyright DOJ
Image caption The document set out the DOJ's draft budget allocations and savings targets for each spending area

The DOJ also said that the budget reduction would affect existing PSNI staffing levels as well as future recruitment.

It warned there would be a "significant impact" on community policing, combating serious crime and legacy investigations.

'Emergency situations'

The consultation document said the Probation Board for Northern Ireland (PBNI) was "currently operating with a deficit of probation officers" but would face further staff cuts if the budget plan is agreed.

"PBNI has indicated that there will be a reduction in out-of-hours services, reducing the ability to deal with emergency situations," it added.

The Northern Ireland Executive as a whole is facing significant reductions in public spending, following a 1.6% cut to the block grant it receives from Westminster.

Within the past few weeks, ministers have warned that thousands of public sector jobs are under threat as they attempt to balance their departmental budgets.

Many public services are also facing cutbacks, including hospitals, schools, public transport, road repairs, flooding compensation schemes, libraries and museums.

The DOJ has requested that members of the public respond to its budget consultation no later than 29 December 2014.

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