Officers are leaving the PSNI because they cannot afford to stay, the chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland has said.
Liam Kelly said he knows of student officers who have been offered shifts in the hospitality industry which would pay them more than what they would earn for a police shift.
He described the situation as “incredible” given the risk and responsibility associated with being a police officer in Northern Ireland.
With overtime having been cut, some officers have secondary employment, although this must be approved by the PSNI.
“Some of our student officers have said their previous employers, especially in the hospitality trade, are asking them if they’d be willing to work a shift, and the reality is they’d be paid better for that shift than working a shift in the police, which is incredible,” Mr Kelly said.
“I can give the example of someone who worked in a big hotel chain… the responsibilities were getting the plates from the dinner table into the kitchen to wash – that’s a big difference from wearing body armour, carrying a gun and driving round to incidents.
“It’s a very worrying environment.
“Not everyone coming into the police service is 18/19/20 years of age – you get people coming in mid-30s/40s who have mortgages and families, and they’re being presented with a starting salary of £21,000. After they finish in the college it moves up to £24,000; it takes five years for them to get to £30,000.
“The salary remuneration is not good. Once they get beyond five years there are only two more salary scales above that for constables. The first jump is about £4,500 and the next jump is £6,000, which brings an officer up to around £41,000 at the seven-year point.
“But what we’re seeing from the data is a lot of officers are choosing to leave earlier because they can’t afford to be in the police anymore, or they don’t feel the job is giving them the work-life balance they need to support themselves and their families.”
He also voiced frustration on behalf of officers as they await a pay award, delayed by the absence of a functioning government at Stormont.
While other frontline services, including nurses, have recently taken part in strike action over pay, police are unable to do the same.
“It really is not a good picture going forward, we’re not any different to the majority of the public service on this,” said Mr Kelly.
“The fact that there hasn’t been a government from February has meant there has been no budget allocated, there has been an envelope budget allocated which is generally looked at in the October Monitoring Round, but the October Monitoring Round didn’t happen because we have no government so therefore no public pay policy could be set.”
Mr Kelly said the Police Federation does not even know what the pay review recommendations for police are.
“We’re now in December; that should have been paid in September, and that’s been exacerbated by a decision last year to stop incremental pay at the same time,” he said.
“We have officers who are in the salary scale who are not progressing along their increments, and they also don’t know if they’re getting a pay award so that has created a perfect storm in that regard.
“Unfortunately, without having a government, our mechanism to rectify that is basically appealing to the good nature of our Secretary of State.”
Mr Kelly said the PSNI has generally been left in a difficult position financially.
“We’re on the same page with the Chief Constable about the fact that he has been given a budget which he has to live within, but it doesn’t factor in the realities of what the police have to do on a daily basis,” he said.
He compared the situation in Northern Ireland with policing in England and Wales, where respective forces have had multi-year budgets to help plan resources.
A multi-year budget had been planned by the Stormont Executive; however, the devolved government effectively collapsed amid DUP protest action against the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Mr Kelly said: “The start of this year was supposed to be the first of a three-year budget. The PSNI were presented with, over the course of that three years, government intention to reduce their budget by nearly £260 million. This year was actually the smallest cut – the bigger cuts were coming in years two and three.
“The Chief Constable, in my mind, will come in £59 million down on where he started this year. I think he will meet the target but there will be consequences for what police can actually do on a daily basis.”
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