Page last updated at 07:19 GMT, Monday, 29 June 2009 08:19 UK

PSNI cutbacks 'must be examined'

Barry Gilligan
Barry Gilligan took over as Policing Board chairman at the start of June

The size of the police service in Northern Ireland is no longer sustainable, the chairman of the Policing Board has said.

Barry Gilligan said further cutbacks must be examined.

He said unpopular moves, such as closing more stations, needed to be considered for the PSNI to deliver effective policing on a reduced budget.

Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde confirmed last week the full-time police reserve would be phased out by March 2011.

The Police Federation, the union that represents police officers in Northern Ireland, reacted with dismay, saying it was premature at a time when the dissident threat is at its highest.

The perception seems to be that closing a police station means less policing, whereas closure of a police station in many cases can mean more policing and better policing.
Barry Gilligan
Policing Board chairman

However, Mr Gilligan said further changes were on the way.

"The reality is, and a lot of people don't like to hear it, we have more police officers per head of the population than anywhere else in Europe and we have more real estate and police stations than any other comparable police service - and that is not sustainable,'' he said.

Mr Gilligan took over from Sir Desmond Rea at the start of June as chairman of the Policing Board, which holds the PSNI to account.

He said board members would have to examine difficult issues when they meet in August to discuss the future of the PSNI estate.

"The message has to be got across that closing a police station is not about lessening the police service, it's about policing a community in a different way," he said.

"But the perception seems to be that closing a police station means less policing, whereas closure of a police station in many cases can mean more policing and better policing."

'Inflexible'

He added: We have an issue about the number of officers who are on the front line - we still have an issue about jobs being done by police officers that could be as effectively done by civilians, in turn releasing those officers to the front line. So there's room for better use of resources."

He said that, while the PSNI's budget allocation of £1.2bn a year was relatively generous compared to other forces, it was inflexible, in that the majority of money went on wages and pensions.

He predicted the job of managing the budget would become increasingly difficult once policing and justice powers were devolved to Stormont and the PSNI had to compete with other Executive departments for funding.

"I'll tell you one thing for sure - we won't be getting any more. The budget won't go up, in my view," he said.



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