The viability of a proposed £157 million state-of-the-art police training college will need to be reviewed in light of the unprecedented financial pressures facing the PSNI, the Chief Constable has said.
George Hamilton said the PSNI was committed to the new facility in Desertcreat, Co Tyrone, for police, fire and prison service recruits but said commanders could not simply pretend they were not in the midst of a funding crisis.
Mr Hamilton outlined the PSNI’s current position on the college as he attended the police’s existing training facility at Garnerville in east Belfast to congratulate the first new wave of recruits to pass into the ranks for three years.
The planned new build has already been beset with years of delay and setbacks. It was originally envisaged to be opened by 2008 but construction has still not started.
Mr Hamilton was asked if the plan had effectively been put on hold as the PSNI deals with severe cuts to its Stormont funding that has already seen the cancellation of another planned recruitment wave in January.
“We obviously need to review everything in light of the developing financial crisis frankly, so that will be looked at,” he said.
He said a steering group consisting of the emergency services and departmental officials was examining various costing issues.
“We have some work being done up just around what future running costs and so on will be and looking at affordability,” he explained.
“This (the college) is in the (Executive’s) Programme for Government, the Police Service of Northern Ireland is committed to it, but we can’t pretend we don’t have the financial crisis we have.
“So we will simply do the work, make an assessment and present that to the Executive because it is in the Programme for Government.”
After inspecting the ranks of new officers on the parade ground inside Garnerville, Mr Hamilton commended their achievements.
“Our new police officers have been set very high standards to maintain,” he said.
“There are many challenges ahead for them, but I have no doubt that with support from their colleagues and the community they will rise to those challenges and fulfil their duty to keep people safe.”
Addressing the 36 new PSNI constables and two new Belfast Harbour Police officers, he continued: “Effective policing does not just happen. It requires a partnership between you and the community. You need to know, trust and respect the people you serve and in return they need to know, trust and respect you.
“We know that the Service is facing huge financial challenges and the level of cuts required will change how we deliver policing. Out of necessity we will focus our resources on where vulnerability and need is greatest. However, our priority will be to concentrate on the things that matter - dealing with local issues and keeping people safe.
“Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate each of the officers today and wish them every success in their policing career.”
Head of the college Chief Superintendent Michelle Larmour said the recruits were required to obtain the highest academic qualification of any police force in the UK.
“Morale is fantastic I have to say and I want to congratulate the officers,” she added.
“The morale is very high, the enthusiasm is very high, they want to get out there, they want to put their training into practice.
“This is day one - ‘for real’ starts now after today and they will learn on the job but they will bring incredible skills and knowledge out to the front line.
“I am hugely enthusiastic about the standard they have set in this college for the remaining student officers who continue to train.”
Around 160 officers are still in training with more recruits entering the system next month.
Northern Ireland Policing Board chairwoman Anne Connolly said: “I am delighted on behalf of the board to welcome these new officers into the PSNI and celebrate their graduation day with family and friends.
“These officers have made a personal commitment to serve the community and the training, which has been designed to meet the needs and demands of modern policing, can now be put into practice.
“Working with colleagues across the Service these officers will be providing an essential service to the community and I wish each of them well as they take the next step in their policing career.”
Also congratulating the new recruits, Justice Minister David Ford said: “These new officers are very welcome to what I consider to be one of the best police services in the world. The PSNI delivers a high quality service day in day out, in every community and in every area of policing. Professional PSNI constables, such as those graduating today, are the backbone of this service and I wish them every success in their future careers.”