North Yorkshire’s police commissioner has told how fewer people going away on holiday this year has seen the force’s phone lines being deluged “with everybody complaining about each other”.
North Yorkshire’s police, fire and crime commissioner Philip Allott said as a result of the pandemic on some days last month the force got record numbers of 999 and non-emergency 101 calls, even more than they do on the traditional busiest days of the year, such as New Year’s Eve.
Mr Allott was responding to fresh criticisms of the force’s 101 line by elected community representatives at a meeting of North Yorkshire County Council’s corporate and partnerships scrutiny committee.
North Yorkshire’s 101 line has regularly struggled to meet demand since it was was introduced in 2011 as a national measure to ease demand on 999, which was being used as a default when people did not know the local non-emergency number.
Despite Mr Allott’s predecessor Julia Mulligan launching a string of initiatives to increase capacity, the meeting heard South Selby division councillor Mike Jordan claim “the phone just doesn’t get answered.”
Eastfield and Osgodby division member Councillor Tony Randerson said those staffing the 101 line needed more training as when residents did eventually get through they were given useless or misleading information.
He said: “A resident of mine was on the phone 20 minutes waiting for a response about antisocial behaviour. When he got a response he was told it’s not a police matter, go to your council, which is unbelievable.”
Coun Randerson called on the commissioner to press the Home Office for a complete overhaul of the 101 system.
He said: “It’s not fit for purpose and it hasn’t been fit for purpose for the last eight years.”
Mr Allott said the situation had been exacerbated by far fewer people going on holiday and neighbours irritating each other. He said: “So you’ve got a record number of people complaining about each other. The pandemic has created a lot of these record call numbers at a time when nobody else is willing to pick these calls up.
He added the 101 number was being used for a spectrum of non-policing issues. Mr Allott said the police were having to deal with time-consuming calls over matters such as potential suicides and noise, which were the responsibility of the NHS and council environmental health officers.
He said: “The police will do the enforcement, but what we can’t be is a sticking plaster for everything. Unfortunately there is an expectation that the police and the 101 number are the number of last resort and the reality of it is unless we triple the funding it can never be that.
Mr Allott said cutting with the length of time 101 callers faced was “the number one thing on my agenda”, that more staff were being trained and yet more staff were needed.
He added he was investigating introducing software to the force’s website which displays call waiting times so non-urgent callers could then chose to phone back later. In addition, software which can model what the call situation will be like at specific times to enable the force to better manage demand peaks is also being examined.
He said when the force launches Home Online to enable people will be able to report issues such as antisocial behaviour on its website next month, demand for 101 should also ease.