Scotland politics

Police control struggling to cope with calls, MSPs told

The police control room at Leek Wootton Image copyright West Mercia Police

Police Scotland has been urged to halt its programme of control room closures.

It followed reports of problems at Bilston Glen, which previously handled calls from the Lothians and Borders.

Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said the control room in Midlothian was struggling to cope following the closure of the Glenrothes control room in Fife on 17 March.

He told Holyrood more than 1,000 calls were lost in one day, and non-emergency calls took 40 minutes to answer.

The Glenrothes control room is one of five across Scotland scheduled to be closed as part of the reorganisation of the Scottish Police Service.

Dumfries and Stirling closed earlier, with Glasgow city, Inverness and Aberdeen to be shut later in 2015.

Police Scotland said the rationalisation, reducing the number of control rooms from 11 to four, would save £6m annually.

'Shambolic'

Speaking at First Minister's Questions, Mr Rennie said: "The closure of Dumfries last year was described as shambolic.

"Stirling was closed, and only weeks later had to re-open in an emergency, and Aberdeen and Inverness are still to come.

"I am alarmed that the first minister seems to be unaware of the problems because earlier this month there was almost a critical incident because staff levels were so low."

He called on the government to halt further closures.

Answering times

Police Scotland has disputed the detail of the claims made by Mr Rennie.

Ch Supt Val Thomson said: "It does not take callers 58 minutes to get through when they call Police Scotland using 101 or 999.

"The average time taken for connecting a 101 non-emergency call is one minute, with many calls being answered in less. The average response for a 999 call to be answered is nine seconds.

"When you dial the 101 non-emergency number, callers have a menu of options that is intended to prioritise those calls that have an incident or crime to report."

Ch Supt Thomson added: "On Saturday 21 March 2015 there was an issue with one call received by the Bilston Glen Service Centre where the caller chose an option which is treated as a lower priority. This call stayed in the queue longer than expected. Action has been taken to stop this happening again.

"We do not recognise the claims made by Mr Rennie about the Stirling Centre opening in an emergency. There remained a presence in Stirling when the workload transferred to Bilston Glen, in the form of a Police Assistance Desk (a facility where police officers take crime reports over the phone and provide advice and guidance to members of the public)."

Service quality

Nicola Sturgeon said she would raise the matter with the justice secretary and Police Scotland.

"People have the right to get a high-quality service from the police and where for any reason that is falling short then we will ensure that action is taken to rectify that," she said.

The matter was raised again in a member's debate initiated by Labour's justice spokesman Hugh Henry.

He said the experience of the two-year period since Police Scotland was established had given "grave concern".

Mr Henry said he was not criticising individual officers or non-uniformed staff.

But he criticised the force's watchdog body, the Scottish Police Authority (SPA), which he characterised as a "toothless tiger".

Mr Henry told MSPs: "It is largely ineffective and comes to the game after the event rather than setting out its policies and expectations in advance."

The debate followed criticism of Police Scotland over the way it has implemented controversial policies including stop and search, arming officers on routine duties and the closure of police station public counters.

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