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‘Staggering’ increase in time taken to respond to 101 calls

ACC says many discontinued 101 calls are cases where callers have been instructed to hang up and dial 999

Almost two million calls to Police Scotland  - the vast majority to the 101 number  - were abandoned by the caller before being picked up.

Statistics released to the Scottish Tories under freedom of information found that 1,878,727 calls to both the non-emergency and emergency numbers were discontinued between the beginning of 2018 and November of last year.

The vast majority of abandoned calls were seen in the non-emergency number 101, with the pandemic appearing to have a severe impact on the number of calls which ended before callers were able to speak to staff.

Last week Police Scotland announced it had procured a new digital contact platform because its old analogue system had reached 'end of life' and was no longer able to cope with demand. 

The figures show the number of calls waiting more than two minutes for a 999 to be answered has increased by more than 17 times between 2019 and 2020.

In 2020, the first year of the pandemic, the number of discontinued calls rose from 284,239 to 919,790.

Some 590,279 callers hung up before speaking to anyone between the beginning of 2021 and November of that year.

The number of discontinued calls to 999 remained fairly consistent in the last three years, following a rise of just over 1,000 between 2018 and 2019.

In 2019, 4,619 callers hung up, compared with 4,723 in 2020 and 2,827 up to November 2021.

However, the number of calls which took more than two minutes to be answered rose dramatically in 2020.

In 2019, just 150 calls took more than 120 seconds to be answered, but a year later that figure had risen to 2,624 – an increase of more than 17 times.

Some 2,827 calls to 999 were logged as taking longer than two minutes to be answered up to November 2021.

Scottish Tory justice spokesman Jamie Greene described the figures as “absolutely staggering”.

“Our officers are doing their best under severe pressure, but they are simply not being given the resources they need by the SNP Government,” he said.

“This situation is completely unacceptable and unsustainable going forward. We cannot have this huge volume of calls from members of the public going unanswered when they could be alerting police to serious incidents.”

And he called for greater funding for Police Scotland.

He said: “These statistics are a damning indictment of the SNP’s failures to fund our police.

“Ministers must urgently reverse their plans to hit police with yet another cut in this year’s budget and support Scottish Conservative calls for a significant increase in their capital funding.”

The Scottish Tories have pushed for a £36.5 million increase in planned funding for Police Scotland in 2022-23 – already slated to be £1.34 billion – with the budget due to be debated for the first time on Thursday.

Assistant Chief Constable John Hawkins said that earlier this week the force “announced significant investment in new technology to further protect and strengthen our emergency 999 and non-emergency 101 services”.

“At the end of last year, we introduced a range of measures to boost our 101 and 999 services, both of which performed well over the festive period against a backdrop of high demand and significant absence,” he said.

“Police Scotland receives more than three million public contacts each year and our committed officers and staff continue to prioritise our 999 emergency calls which are answered in under 10 seconds on average.

“While we prioritised 999 calls throughout the coronavirus pandemic, we have maintained our 101 service despite high levels of absence and reduced capacity due to physical distancing.

“Many of these discontinued 101 calls will be cases where callers have been instructed to hang up and dial 999 or they have decided to redial and select another option from a pre-recorded menu, they have opted to contact us via our website or they have realised they should be calling another agency.

“In addition, a significant number of both 999 and 101 calls are mis-dialled – callers realise and hang up.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “As Police Scotland have made clear, they have taken all necessary steps to protect the critical emergency 999 and non-emergency 101 services throughout the pandemic.

“The total budget for policing in 2022-23 is almost £1.4 billion, including an additional £40.5m increase in resource funding and a further £6.6m to mitigate the impact of Covid on the policing budget.

“And despite cuts to the Scottish Government’s capital budget we have more than doubled the police capital budget since 2017-18, supporting continued investment in police assets including the estate, vehicle fleet, specialist equipment and ICT to ensure officers have the tools they need to do their jobs effectively.”

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