Police go from handcuffs to ‘handy men’

Robert Carlyle's role as Hamish Macbeth appears set for real life reprise
Robert Carlyle's role as Hamish Macbeth appears set for real life reprise
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Police handling 999 calls in the Highlands and Islands now face dealing with emergencies such as burst pipes and broken street lights.

As of today, out-of-hours calls to Highland Council will be dealt with by Northern Constabulary staff.

The move comes after the local authority struck a deal with the force, which the council is paying an undisclosed sum for the service.

Extra police and civilian staff are being employed to man the control room at police headquarters in Inverness to deal with night-time queries, which can include complaints about bin collections as well as more urgent inquiries.

Union chief David Ross said he hoped enough police personnel would be on duty at peak times.

The staff will follow a script to find out whether the situation is a genuine emergency before contacting the relevant council officer to deal with the problem.

A Northern Constabulary spokeswoman said: “Call handlers are dedicated to 999 emergency calls and this initiative should provide greater resilience and improvements to response times to police emergency calls.”

She refused to disclose the amount for the contract, saying it was a “contractual matter”.

Chief Superintendent Julian Innes added: “We have long been committed to a partnership approach to sharing and delivering services where this provides both an efficient and improved level of service to the public.”

Steve Barron, Highland Council’s director of housing and property, said: “This partnership approach brings with it many benefits for customers and for both partners, making use of the highly trained staff at Northern Constabulary’s force operations centre.

“Callers will continue to receive prompt and effective responses to repairs and homelessness problems, plus directing emergency calls to Northern Constabulary also means that emergencies will be dealt with centrally.”

A spokeswoman for the local authority added: “Highland Council will pay Northern Constabulary a fee for carrying out this service on our behalf. We will not state the amount.”

David Ross, secretary of the Scottish Police Federation’s joint northern branch, said the union was not opposed to the move, adding it made sense as long as the force had the necessary capacity to deal with all the calls.

Mr Ross said: “My only real concern is for capacity, particularly on a Friday and Saturday night. During these times, calls to the force control centre can be quite busy and people routinely have to wait a while before the call is answered.”