Justice draft Budget 2011 - 2015

A SUBMISSION BY THE COMMITTEE FOR JUSTICE ON THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE’S BUDGET 2011 – 15 DRAFT ALLOCATIONS AND SAVINGS PROPOSALS

Introduction

The Committee for Justice receives regular briefings on the Department of Justice budget and the position in relation to the monitoring rounds.

In relation to the Budget 2010 process the Committee for Justice was first briefed by departmental officials on 2 September when it considered detailed information on the department’s inescapable pressures for the 2011-15 period and savings scenarios based on a 5% year on year reduction to its baselines.

Following the national Spending Review published on 20 October 2010 by the UK Coalition Government the Committee received further evidence on 4 November on the likely impact of the Chancellor’s announcement on the Department of Justice budget. During this briefing the Committee focused in particular on whether the Department of Justice budget would continue to be ring-fenced and the likely implications of that, the position in relation to ‘End Year Flexibility’ and continued access to the Treasury Reserve for additional security funding.

The Minister of Finance announced the NI Executive’s “Draft Budget 2011 – 15” on 15 December 2010 which provided the overall proposed Department of Justice resource expenditure and capital investment allocations for the four year budget period. Following this the Department of Justice provided information on the Minister’s priorities, the overall baseline reduction, draft budget allocations and proposed pressures to be funded and officials attended a committee meeting on 11 January to outline the key issues and answer questions. On 21 January the Committee received information on the savings delivery plans and equality impact assessments and officials returned to the Committee on 25 January to answer further questions.

When considering the Department of Justice’s budget position the Committee has given particular emphasis to the likely implications of any proposed budget reductions on frontline services and the ability to deliver these services.

Ring-Fencing of the DoJ Budget

One of the key issues that needed to be resolved in relation to the Department of Justice budget for the 2011 – 15 period was whether it would continue to be ring-fenced or not. The Executive’s draft Budget proposes that the Department of Justice budget will remain ring-fenced for that budget period.

The Committee wishes to dispel any misconceptions that the result of ring-fencing the Department of Justice budget for this period is that the budget is protected and will not face any reductions. The outcome of the proposal to continue to ring-fence the budget is that it will receive the direct Barnett consequentials arising from changes in the level of funding of the Home Office and Ministry of Justice as a result of the UK spending review settlement for Whitehall departments. The result of this is that the Department of Justice faces an overall reduction in its cash baseline of £82 million or 7.2% by 2014/15. Taking into account the effect of inflation the real term impact is significantly greater.

The Committee notes that ring-fencing the Department’s budget results in it having a slightly worse resource baseline than the average Northern Ireland settlement but does give it flexibility to move funding between spending areas and provides end-year flexibility (discussed below) which, as far as the Committee is aware, is not available to any other department in Northern Ireland or the UK. The Committee is therefore of the view that ring-fencing is the most appropriate position to take in relation to the Department of Justice’s budget for the 2011 - 15 period.

End Year Flexibility

The Committee welcomes the fact that, as part of the ring-fencing of the budget, the Department of Justice has guaranteed access to underspends generated both this year and throughout the Budget 2010 period. This will provide important flexibility for the Department, particularly in relation to this year where there are underspends in relation to both capital funding – for the planned Desertcreat Training College – and revenue – for the part-time Police Reserve gratuity and the full-time Police Reserve severance scheme. The Committee views the retention of end-year flexibility for the Department of Justice as a distinct advantage.

Access to the Reserve

One of the key issues in relation to the Department of Justice budget is continued access to the Treasury Reserve to fund exceptional security pressures faced by the PSNI. The Chief Constable has indicated a requirement of approximately £250 million over the 4 year period. In the draft budget the Executive has allocated an additional £45 million to the Department of Justice which it intends to contribute to meeting the security funding pressures facing the PSNI. A bid for £200 million has been with Treasury for some time and the Department is waiting on confirmation that the bid has been successful.

The Committee is extremely concerned about the implications for the Department of Justice budget if the bid is not met in full. In response to questions from Members, officials indicated that there was no contingency plan in place if the bid was unsuccessful and admitted that taking out £200 million from the rest of the Department’s budget would result in it being in severe difficulties. The Committee believes that the implications to the Department’s budget if the bid was to be unsuccessful or only partially successful are such that it will not be possible to agree the Department of Justice budget until confirmation regarding the granting of the bid is received. The Committee calls for a decision to be made as a matter of urgency. Given the time constraints in relation to having an agreed budget in place it is imperative that confirmation is received from Treasury as soon as possible that this security funding bid will be met in full from the Reserve.

Resource Departmental Expenditure Limit

The Committee welcomes the Executive’s decision to allocate an additional £45 million to the Department of Justice budget.

Key priorities of the Minister of Justice

Turning to the key funding priorities the Committee notes that the Minister of Justice has identified the following:

  • Protecting front line policing
  • Protecting other frontline areas across the Department, with the aim of protecting outcomes for the public
  • Protecting the voluntary and community sectors as far as possible

In scrutinising the draft budget allocations the Committee notes that the figures provided do indicate funding has been skewed towards the priorities of policing and security e.g. the PSNI has the lowest percentage baseline reduction of all areas and the Directorate that provides back office support in the Department will be expected to deliver the biggest savings.

However on the information available to date the Committee is unable to properly and accurately assess the likely implications of the funding reductions on the delivery of front line services, either in relation to front line policing or other front line services. The Committee notes with concern that in nearly all of the draft savings plans provided by the Department there are references to achieving savings by suppression of posts, redeployment in headcount, workforce modernisation, absorbing vacancies, natural wastage, reductions in office equipment, reductions in training costs, reviews of the frequency of research work etc. The Committee wishes to see detailed impact assessments from each area of the Department of the implications of the proposed savings measures. Until these are available the Committee is not in a position to make an accurate judgement of the draft budget.

Funding of the Police Ombudsmans Office and the Probation Board

The Committee is concerned that two bodies have indicated that there may need to be redundancies to achieve the savings they are being asked to deliver – the Police Ombudsmans Office which has indicated 17 redundancies in the final 2 years of the budget and the Probation Board which has indicated the loss of 60 whole time equivalent employees by 2014/15 through natural wastage and redundancy. The Committee is not at all clear why these two organisations appear to being hit harder than other areas of the Department.

Whilst the Committee notes the assurances provided by departmental officials during the evidence session on 25 January 2011 that discussions are on-going with both bodies to ensure that the required savings can be made without the need for redundancies the Committee is very concerned about the likely impact on the ability of both organisations to deliver their services. The Committee calls on the Minister of Justice to give further consideration to this matter urgently with a view to ensuring that, in delivering savings, neither of these organisations are prevented from delivering the current level of service.

Legal Aid Funding

The Committee expressed particular concerns about the budget figure of £75 million allocated to the Legal Services Commission for 2014/15 in the Department’s draft budget proposals. The Committee understood that a budget of £79 million for legal aid had been negotiated as part of the Hillsborough Agreement and that the proposals to reform the Legal Aid system, on which the Department has undertaken protracted discussions with the Bar Council and the Law Society to reach agreement on the way forward, are based on achieving a reduction in costs to that level. The Committee accepts that some of the £4 million difference does reflect efficiencies to be achieved in the Legal Services Commission administration. However the Committee is very perturbed that the budget for legal aid now appears to be less than that which was negotiated and calls on the Minister of Justice to clarify the position urgently.

Voluntary and community sector funding

The Committee welcomes the commitment by the Minister of Justice to protect the voluntary and community sectors as far as possible but, due to the lack of information available, has reservations about the level of protection that is actually being afforded. Officials outlined that as a result of the prioritisation the voluntary and community sectors will face a reduction of 1.5% per annum which is less than the reduction for the Department as a whole. However the Committee has no information on which it can assess the impact this 1.5% reduction will have. Again the Committee wishes to see detailed impact assessments of the likely implications of this proposed reduction.

Funding for the NI Prison Service

The Committee notes that the Prison Service cash baseline will reduce by £18 million by 2014/15. This is to be achieved through an invest to save programme (for which £13 million is being provided in 2011/12) and a strategic efficiency and effectiveness programme. The Committee is concerned about the ability to deliver the savings required within the timescale and whether the provision of £13 million is a realistic amount to achieve the possible range of reforms that may be required. The Committee wishes to see details of the proposed efficiency and effectiveness programme as soon as possible.

Use of Consultants

The Committee welcomes the commitment from the Department of Justice to reduce the expenditure on consultancy to as close to zero as possible and notes that any expenditure in this area over £10,000 will require the approval of the Minister of Justice. The Committee raised concerns about the department’s expenditure in relation to legal advice and recommends that the Department closely monitors proposed expenditure in this area to ensure costs are kept to a minimum.

Spending proposals not being funded

The Committee wishes to see details of the specific spending proposals totalling £5 million that are not being funded in the draft budget proposals.

Capital Budget

The Committee welcomes the Executive’s decision to allocate an additional £57 million capital funding to the Department of Justice budget, £30 million of which is for the Desertcreat Training College.

Capital Funding Priorities

The Committee is very pleased that, with the Executive’s decision to allocate £30 million to the Department of Justice to fund the Fire and Rescue aspect of the Desertcreat Training College, this major scheme can now go ahead. The Committee is however very concerned about reports in the media that the Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety has indicated that he may not have the recurrent funding available for the running of the Fire and Rescue part of the college. The Committee calls for the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety to urgently clarify the position and urges him to confirm that the recurrent funding will be available for the Fire and Rescue Service so that Desertcreat Training College can operate on a fully functional basis.

The Committee is disappointed that the capital budget is not sufficient to enable the Department of Justice to complete both the redevelopment of Magilligan prison and the provision of a new women prisoner facility during this budget period. The Committee does however support the Department’s decision to allocate £54 million for the redevelopment of the prison estate. This will allow both projects to commence and the Committee wishes to be kept fully informed of progress in relation to these projects and the options for taking them forward.

Cross-cutting issues

The Committee wishes to highlight that the Department of Justice has made no provision in its budget proposals for any requirements that may arise from the implementation of the Bamford review findings. The Committee has been advised by departmental officials that the principal on which they are working is that the lead Department, in this case the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, will make bids for any changes that is proposed as a result of new legislation.

During Committee visits to HM Prison Maghaberry and the Youth Offenders Centre and policy briefings members are aware that the factors that contribute to offending and reoffending include homelessness; lack of educational attainment; unemployment; mental health issues; alcohol and substance misuse; and being a victim of sexual abuse or domestic violence. The Committee wishes to highlight the absolute necessity for other Departments to recognise the need for a holistic approach and the implementation of early intervention policies in these areas. A lack of investment will undoubtedly have a knock-on effect on levels of offending and subsequent increased costs to the justice system. The Committee calls on the Minister of Justice to raise these issues with the Executive and for the Executive to factor in these issues when looking at the overall draft budget for Northern Ireland.

The Committee welcomes the fact that the Department of Justice is participating in the Budget review group’s review of all arm’s length bodies and quangos.

Draft Programme for Government

The Committee notes that work is on-going in relation to the preparation of the draft Programme for Government. There is a range of reviews either progressing or being planned in relation to Youth Justice, Community Sentencing, Reducing Offending and Prison Reform. Decisions made in relation to the budget allocations dictate what the priorities will be over the next 4 years. The Committee notes that there appears to be no priority given to diversionary policies, which the Minister has indicated he wishes to take forward, in this draft budget and questions how much flexibility there will be to implement new policies over this period of time.

Timescale for consultation

The Committee for Justice considers that the very tight timescale for statutory committees to consider the draft budget proposals has impacted on their ability to properly scrutinise and reach informed decisions. This is extremely unfortunate, particularly as the very difficult budgetary position being faced would have warranted detailed consideration of the likely impact decisions will have on the delivery of services.

Conclusion

The Committee for Justice will continue its scrutiny of the draft Department of Justice budget over the coming weeks and will be seeking urgent clarification of the issues raised.

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