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Fed: Cuts 'Are Hitting The 999 System'

Budget reductions are beginning to have an effect on the way emergency calls are dealt with, says staff association

A senior Fed official has said that the resilience of the Police Service – and its ability to respond to emergency calls – is being compromised as budget cuts begin to bite.

Steve White, who is the inspectors’ representative for the West of England Number Six Region, said forces were doing their best to restructure to deal with reductions of up to 20 per cent but capability was inevitably being hit.

Mr White was speaking after Avon & Somerset Constabulary admitted that it had been unable to answer nearly a quarter of emergency calls within its target of 10 seconds during a particularly busy weekend on August 11-12.

While emphasising that public safety had not been compromised, officers said they had felt the pressure of a major festival in the area plus reports of gunshots being fired.

Mr White said forces could not be blamed for feeling the stretch, and that ministers now needed to face the reality that their actions were hitting the front-line.

He added: “The unfortunate truth is that despite the very best efforts by forces to become more efficient and stretch what they have, there are occasions when the stretch becomes a break because they no longer have any resilience.

“Having to wait a long time to get your 999 call answered by your local force could make all the difference. There is only so much that forces can achieve.

“We are told by government that the cuts to police budgets will not affect the front-line. They cannot decide what the front-line is but if answering emergency calls is not then I don’t know what is. Fewer cops and staff to answer calls is the stark reality.”

Avon & Somerset Communications Superintendent Chris Weigold said his force had been dealing with the budget cuts with a comprehensive restructuring process, which provided an opportunity to become more efficient.

He said the force experienced “unprecedented demand” during the weekend of August 11-12 when 23 per cent of calls were not answered within 10 seconds.

He added that an international balloon festival in Bristol had attracted around 500,000 people, there had been reports of gunshots, a large number of vehicles were on the motorway and there were the pressures of a busy night-time economy to deal with.

Supt Weigold said: “During the busiest period between 11pm on Saturday and 2am on Sunday there were 276 incidents, 60 of which were emergencies requiring an immediate response.

“On an average day we have something in the region of 700 emergency calls. On August 22, for example, 94 per cent of our 665 calls were answered within 10 seconds.”

Supt Weigold confirmed the call handling system had to be changed as a result of reductions in funding, which had seen the number of posts reduced. The past 18 months had seen the merger of two control centres on a single site and the introduction of multi-skilled staff.

But he said efficiencies had been found without detraction in service. Processes had also been changed to ensure that more staff were available to take calls at peak times, while there were fewer on duty when workloads were lighter.

He said the force had also drawn on expertise from industry with the appointment of a new calls handling manager. Chief officers had full oversight of the reform process, Supt Weigold added.

Photo: Metropolitan Police Service
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