Northern Ireland

PSNI's Drew Harris defends £14m budget underspend

PSNI deputy chief constable Drew Harris Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Deputy chief constable Drew Harris said the PSNI's ability to improve policing was being hampered

The Police Service of Northern Ireland has said that uncertainty over funding cuts has made financial planning "virtually impossible".

An underspend of £14m may be returned to the government as it cannot carry funding into the next financial year.

Deputy chief constable Drew Harris said a "lack of clarity around future budgets" was hampering the PSNI's ability to improve policing.

Spending the money unnecessarily would be "irresponsible", the PSNI said.

The Department of Justice required the PSNI to make significant financial savings before giving it an additional £13m of funding last autumn, it added.

"The in-year pendulum swing of huge budget cuts and significant easements made strategic financial planning virtually impossible," DCC Harris said.

"The lack of a facility to carry over in-year underspends, as part of a strategic reserve, is a situation unique to the PSNI in the UK.

"This significantly hampers the chief constable's ability to invest in long-term effectiveness and efficiency," he added.

The Police Federation for Northern Ireland, which represents rank-and-file officers, called for a rethink of the rules governing the way the PSNI has to return funding it does not spend.

Its chairman Mark Lindsay said the money "should be added to the new and inadequate budget allocation".

"This money came too late in the day to be allocated," Mr Lindsay said.

"We should have the ability to carry forward any underspend so that the service is not placed at a disadvantage.

"We need to have the ability to undertake sensible and prudent forward planning, but we're denied that ability because of this farcical and nonsensical system."

DUP MP David Simpson said senior officers should review their budget plans, adding that the underspend was "absurd".

"The public will be astounded to hear that on the one hand the police are cutting frontline services because of budget pressures but at the same time are handing back £14m they can't spend," Mr Simpson said.

"While this money may well be reallocated to another department, it does nonetheless raise questions about the police management of their budget."