Saturday, 14 December 2013

Police Service of Northern Ireland - a 'survival plan'?

Deputy Chief Constable Judith Gillespie** said: "This plan is a survival plan and hopefully it will prove to be our thriving plan, but without 'Service First' the business would fall over. We cannot continue the way we are going because the districts are haemorrhaging resources month on month through natural wastage." .. Belfast Telegraph, 11 December 2013

The DCC's words do sound rather alarmist but I drew attention to the deficit of constables just over four years ago.

Patten had recommended the deployment of 5932 constables in a 'peace-time' context but by December 2009 there were only 5472, a short-fall of 460. The PSNI management reaction to my intervention was to remove the Patten Established Figures from the monthly on-line returns; the monthly returns also went missing for a number of months. There appeared to be a miraculous recovery in April 2011 but it was probably just a typographical error. At present, there are 5313 constables representing a deficit of 619 on the Patten recommendation and that recommendation doesn't take account of the current political turbulence.

The number of reservists has been cut dramatically so this adds to the burden when additional resources are required. Patten also recommended the use of 2540 support staff. Their numbers had fallen to 2318 by December 2009 but are currently 2370.

Added 21 December 2013

Like every other public sector agency we must live within our budget.  We have £135 million of efficiency savings to make in this spending review period, and we are committed to delivering these through our ServiceFirst programme.  We are required to make £48m savings off our baseline costs by March 2015.  This will be very challenging and will inevitably change the way we deliver policing, both locally on the ground and in support functions.  More than 80% of our budget cost is our people and our police and staff numbers have reduced as recruitment has been frozen for the last two years.  But it is clear that there is a ‘bottom line’ of police resilience required to meet the challenges and threats we face.   Following a comprehensive resilience review, commissioned by the Chief Constable, which assessed the current and immediate future threats and risks for PSNI, it is clear that police numbers must be maintained at a minimum of 7000 police officers.  This will require political will to secure additional funding but the consequences for Northern Ireland and Great Britain in the absence of adequate police resilience are potentially severe. .. DCC Gillespie 22 October 2013

Chris Patten recommended a baseline of 7500 full-time officers in the context of 'peace time' operations but this has now been lowered to 7000 despite the DCC's report that 'attacks have included mortars, pipe bombs, shootings [and] booby trap IEDs' and 'paramilitary shootings and assaults continue, on both the Loyalist and Republican side, with 31 victims of shootings or beatings compared to 28 last year.  Terrorist groupings continue to rely heavily on organised crime to fund their activities.'

Added January 16, 2014

House of Commons - January 15, 2014

Mr Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): Patten recommended that in a peaceful situation, the PSNI should have a minimum of 7,500 officers. Given that Northern Ireland is not exactly in that peaceful situation, owing to paramilitary activity, is the Secretary of State concerned about the PSNI’s ability to recruit sufficient officers?

Mrs Villiers: I am grateful to the Chairman of the Northern Ireland Select Committee for his question and his important work on this issue. The current number of officers in the PSNI is 6,795. The Chief Constable*** recently told the Policing Board that the minimum number he needed to perform effectively was 6,963. It is important that consideration be given to how the shortfall can be dealt with, and as I have said, I remain optimistic about the ongoing discussions between the Department of Finance and Personnel and the Department of Justice about resolving that budgetary shortfall.

Whatever happened to those political spokespeople who advocated the adoption of the Patten proposals? Why do they now remain silent?

[** December 20, 2013 - DCC retirement announced]

[*** January 22, 2014 - CC retirement announced]