PSNI to close 11 station enquiry offices amid “unprecedented financial pressure”

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) is to close 11 of its 28 station enquiry offices due to “unprecedented financial pressure”.

Apr 16, 2024
By Paul Jacques
Assistant Chief Constable Bobby Singleton

Assistant Chief Constable Bobby Singleton said it was not a decision that had been taken lightly but against a backdrop of “financial and resource pressures” the current service was “neither sustainable nor effective”.

However, he stressed that these were not station closures and officers and staff will continue to serve the community from these locations.

The Police Federation for Northern Ireland (PFNI) said the planned closure of the 11 station enquiry offices was the “inevitable consequence of budget pressures”.

The PSNI said the timescale for the closures was not yet clear with a number of “technical and practical matters” that need to be addressed, but it is likely to be within the next three months.

“This decision will represent a significant financial saving and maximise the availability of officers for critical service provision within communities,” it added.

The PSNI currently operates 28 enquiry offices across Northern Ireland. One of these sites, Musgrave Street in Belfast, operates 24/7 with Strand Road, Derry/Londonderry, opening for 76 hours a week and the remaining 26 sites opening for 40 hours a week.

These ‘front counters’ are operated by station enquiry assistants, employed by a third party private sector contractor as part of a managed services contract.

Mr Singleton, assistant chief constable for local policing, said: “Last month the chief constable informed the Northern Ireland Policing Board that as a consequence of the current financial and resource pressures facing the Police Service, the decision has been taken to reduce the number of station enquiry offices from 28 to 17.

“This decision follows an extensive review which included analysis of the volume and type of demand in enquiry offices. This review concluded that against the backdrop of wider resource challenges, the current service is neither sustainable nor effective.”

He added: “This is not a decision we have taken lightly and we are conscious there may be an actual or perceived loss of accessibility, visibility and ability to respond to the needs of the community.

“However, the PSNI is facing unprecedented financial pressure and savings are necessary to deliver a sustainable and effective organisation.

“The chief constable has been clear for some time that difficult decisions are going to have to be taken. The Police Service is shrinking and as a result, the level of service the public can expect to see is going to change.

“It is important to emphasise that these are not station closures. Police officers and staff will continue to serve the community from these locations.

“Our analysis shows that even with the reduced arrangement over 90 per cent of households in Northern Ireland will be within 15 miles of a station enquiry office. The average household is 10.7 miles from their nearest office (an increase of four miles) or 18.5 minutes by car (an increase of 1.5 minutes).

“The need for clarity and transparency on this issue is paramount. We want to be clear with the public about the challenges we are facing and the type of service they can expect to see in the coming years.”

PFNI chair Liam Kelly said: “I understand that communities that are affected will view this decision with dismay and disappointment.

“That said, severe cuts in service levels are the outworking for an organisation that faces a deficit of £130 million.

“Something has to give if core policing services are to be maintained with the diminishing resources that are available. This is the inevitable consequence of budget pressures, but it will fall far short of what’s required if the Service is to attempt to balance the books.

“It is a total disgrace that insufficient priority is devoted to policing in Northern Ireland. Our Northern Ireland Executive must realise that reducing overall effectiveness and ability to respond to calls from the public with fewer officers is a backward and potentially dangerous step.

“Only direct intervention by ministers and the Government to sort out the mess that is the PSNI budget will halt the decline.

“It’s a relief that there are no station closures involved, but that shouldn’t be taken to mean that all existing stations will remain open as the Service grapples with this full-blown crisis.”

The enquiry offices earmarked for closure are: Lisburn Road, Strandtown, Tennent Street and Woodbourne in Belfast; Bangor; Banbridge; Magherafelt; Dungannon; Lisnaskea; Waterside; and Newtownabbey.

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