Police taking up to 11 minutes to answer calls

The call-handler pictured at Bilston Glen, Midlothian, responded promptly but there are problems with staffing. Picture: Toby Williams
The call-handler pictured at Bilston Glen, Midlothian, responded promptly but there are problems with staffing. Picture: Toby Williams
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POLICE controllers are taking up to three minutes to answer 999 emergencies and up to 11 minutes for more routine calls amid continuing concerns over sickness levels and recruitment.

Figures being presented to the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) today show dozens of calls to the Edinburgh service centre are discontinued every week as callers give up waiting.

Waiting times are excessive... this is not sustainable

Willie Rennie

While the average time taken to answer non-emergency 101 calls has improved in recent weeks, one caller waited 11 minutes 28 seconds to be answered.

The longest wait for a 999 caller was three minutes, although the average wait was between five and six seconds.

Police Scotland has spent £114,000 on more than 8,000 hours of overtime since 1 April due to difficulties in recruiting control-room staff.

A number of concerns have been raised about the Edinburgh control room, located at Bilston Glen, Midlothian, since it began handling calls from Fife.

Police Scotland closed its Glenrothes call centre in March under a cost-cutting programme which will see the number of control rooms nationally cut from 11 to four.

A report prepared by Assistant Chief Constable Val Thomson said the programme of change had not “been without its challenges”.

The difficulties in the ­Edinburgh control room have led to calls being transferred to Glasgow, as well as the reporting of lost and found property being managed online.

Asst Chf Const Thomson said there were currently 52 vacancies at the service centres in Edinburgh and Glasgow. As of 11 June, there were 102 members of staff off sick across the force’s control rooms, including 25 police officers and 77 members of police staff.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie has repeatedly raised concerns about ­Bilston Glen’s performance.

Commenting on the reported figures, he said: “Months after the First Minister [Nicola Sturgeon] and Police Scotland told me that everything was under control at the Bilston Glen control room we discover the meltdown ­continues.

“Waiting 11 minutes for a non-emergency call is unacceptable, but to wait three minutes for an emergency call to be answered is potentially life-threatening.

“The pressure on staff is acute, waiting times are excessive and the system is not sustainable. ­Action is required to fix it.”

Asst Chf Const Thomson said: “Occasionally something happens that means we experience a spike in demand that results in a slower response to calls for a short time.

“The delay of 11 minutes and 28 seconds on 26 May was as a result of a spike that affected call demand for one hour.

“It can be seen from the rest of the statistics provided that this is not a common event and we use all opportunities to minimise an impact like this.”

An SPA spokeswoman said that the police watchdog was carrying out weekly assurance assessments on call handling, which showed targets were being met.