Police call centre staff wanted redundancy

NEARLY two-thirds of staff applied for voluntary redundancy at a beleaguered police call centre linked to the M9 tragedy which saw a young couple die after officers failed to follow up a report of their accident for three days.

Picture: Ian Georgeson
Picture: Ian Georgeson

A total of 88 members of the 138-strong workforce at Police Scotland’s Bilston Glen facility in Midlothian registered for the redundancy drive in January amid ongoing problems with stress-related illness.

The revelation comes amid mounting pressure on the country’s police watchdog over the way it monitors and holds to account Police Scotland, led by Chief Constable Stephen House.

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The force’s ability to manage and follow up on calls has come under fierce scrutiny in the wake of the crash which claimed the lives of John Yuill, 28, and his partner Lamara Bell, 25.

The couple’s car was involved in a crash off the M9 near Stirling on 5 July. Although the incident was reported that day via a 101 telephone call to police from a member of the public, the message was not logged in the system and no action was taken at the time.

The couple were only discovered in the car three days later after police received a further call and attended the scene. Mr Yuill was found dead and although Ms Bell, a mother-of-two, was found alive, she later died in hospital.

The Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (Pirc) is scrutinising the police’s handling of the call and justice secretary Michael Matheson has ordered Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland to undertake a “thorough speedy review” of the way calls are handled by police across the country. With controversy surrounding the impact on staff from cuts and inadequate IT systems, Police Scotland was warned six months ago by a senior officer that losing 999 call centres posed a major risk to public safety.

Assistant Chief Constable Mike McCormick said hundreds of the force’s contact, command and control staff wanted to quit as a result of plans to downsize the number of call centres from eight to three. Some 325 staff across the nation lodged notes of interest in early retirement or voluntary redundancy.

Meanwhile, it emerged yesterday that five board members of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) raised concerns about the organisation’s chair, Vic Emery, to the Scottish Government.

Mr Emery is alleged to have made inappropriate remarks about senior figures in policing and government, including Mr Matheson.

Between May and June, five members of the SPA flagged up Mr Emery’s conduct to the Scottish Government. The former convener of the Scottish Police Services Authority attended a meeting of board members in Glasgow on 8 July, where it is understood he announced his intention to stand down from his post in September.

Figures released yesterday by Scottish Labour under freedom of information legislation showed that more than 53,000 working days at Police Scotland have been lost to stress over the past two years.

Between January and March this year, 10,016 absences were recorded due to anxiety and depression. Police Scotland said the numbers were falling and services had not been adversely affected but Scottish Labour’s legal affairs spokeswoman, Elaine Murray, said it was time the SNP government “got a grip on policing”.

Police Scotland’s Deputy Chief Constable, Rose Fitzpatrick, said the number of days lost through stress-related absence had fallen year on year by more than 17,000 since the single police force was set up two years ago.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said Police Scotland and the SPA “take the welfare and wellbeing of their officers and staff seriously” and provide a range of support services to help.