Questions have been raised after the Department of Justice returned £47million to the Department of Finance as the PSNI faces a budget shortfall
Concerns have been raised after it emerged Stormont’s Department of Justice (DoJ) has returned more than £47million since the start of the last financial year.
It comes at a time when the PSNI is facing severe funding pressures, with the force facing a budget shortfall of £180million.
According to new figures, in the financial year 2020/21, £11 million of expenditure on unrestricted resources — money for daily expenses – was handed over to the Department of Finance (DoF).
Just over £14m of capital expenditure – money for investment – has been paid off in the same period.
In this financial year, up to 31 December 2021, £2.6 million of unrestricted resource expenditure and £19.6 million of capital expenditure have been returned to the DoF.
Mervyn Storey, chairman of the Stormont Justice Committee, said that at a time when budgets are stretched, this is a very significant amount of money to return.
“I will ask further questions about this. It deserves further investigation. With limited resources, they must be used wisely. With many buildings in the justice domain aging, returning capital money raises questions about financial planning,” he said.
Andy Allen, Ulster Unionist MP, said it was not difficult to see several areas of Northern Ireland’s criminal justice system that could have benefited from additional funding.
“Our prison and our police department are on the brink, alongside our probation service and our courts,” he said.
“Each department needs to be more focused to ensure that the money they receive is used to provide the best possible services and results.”
Green Party MP Rachel Woods, a member of the justice committee, said: ‘The executive’s delayed move to a three-year budget will hopefully result in long-term investment in areas of our justice system where it is most needed, such as juvenile justice. , forensics, victim support, rehabilitation and probation.
“Northern Ireland’s justice system needs increased investment, particularly with the backlog of cases that has built up during the pandemic, and the rollout of new legislative developments such as the reform of the incarceration.”
Last year, Finance Minister Conor Murphy called on all government departments to make all the money possible in order to prioritize health spending.
Last December, Mr. Murphy’s draft three-year budget was approved for consultation by a majority of MPs.
At a subsequent meeting of the Police Council, members were warned of “catastrophic” reductions in police manpower due to the proposed budget.
PSNI chief operating officer Pamela McCreedy said the number of officers could be reduced to as low as 1,100.
Police board member Mike Nesbitt said the £44.4million allocated to PSNI staff was £30million short of the figure required to reach 7,500 officers. — as stipulated in the New Decade, New Approach agreement which restored power sharing in January 2020.
“It now appears that the underlying budget figures show a massive shortfall which could result in the loss of up to 1,100 officers over the three years 2022 to 2025,” he told the meeting.
“This means that the PSNI must operate with 1,500 fewer agents than promised. It is clear that this is totally unacceptable. There is a £180m gap in the budget. This has extremely serious implications for the ability of the PSNI to do its job.
Mark Lindsay, President of the Police Federation, said: “If these cuts are implemented, it will undoubtedly have an impact on the ability to fight crime and protect our communities.
“A brutal reduction in the number of officers by 1,100 will destroy all the good work that has been done over the past 20 years. This will have serious implications for neighborhood policing, which has been the philosophy of policing, as well as our ability to deal with the full range of serious crime.
The DoJ said: “Funding returned to the Department of Finance since the start of the last fiscal year is primarily due to the impact of Covid-19 or funding that has been earmarked by the executive for a specific purpose that cannot be reallocated by the Department for any other purpose and must therefore be returned if not used.
“Underspending at year end is not available for individual departments to carry forward to future years. Year-end underspends must be returned to the NI executive who can access these prior year underspends through the established budget swapping program up to the limits imposed by the Treasury of His Majesty. This allows for reallocation of future years based on broader executive priorities. »