South Yorkshire Police to spend £12m replacing ‘unfit’ 101 calls system

Frustrated caller holding on the line
Frustrated caller holding on the line
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Cash-strapped South Yorkshire Police are to spend millions replacing their ‘unfit for purpose’ 101 calls system – after it was revealed thousands of callers cannot get through.

A new £12 million IT system is to be created to assist staff in answering non-emergency calls from the public.

SYP's Atlas Court building

SYP's Atlas Court building

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Editor’s View: 101 number improvements will be £12m well spent

It comes as figures show tens of thousands of people are hanging up rather than reporting crimes after being left on hold waiting for connections.

Police and Crime Commissioner Alan Billings said the current system is ‘not good enough’ and replacement technology is expected to be in place by the end of this year.

South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billing

South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billing

The 101 system was rolled out across all police forces in England and Wales with the support of the Home Office and became South Yorkshire Police’s only non-emergency number from July 2014.

But the time being taken to answer calls since the system was introduced has more than tripled in South Yorkshire.

A review of the system was ordered last year after it emerged callers to the Atlas Court communications centre in Sheffield were left waiting 40 minutes to get an answer in some cases.

Councillor Robert Frost told a meeting of South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Panel a Freedom of Information request had suggested 50,000 calls have been abandoned in the two years up to end of the 2014/15 financial year.

Dr Billings said the time taken to answer a call before 2015 had been around 30 seconds – but was now one minute and 34 seconds on average.

He said waiting times should be ‘nearer to zero’.

Dr Billings added: “That is not going to happen before the new technology comes in.”

He said a contract for a new IT supplier is due to be signed next month and it is hoped the new technology will be operational towards the end of 2016.

Dr Billings said: “The important thing is recognition that the technology is just not fit for purpose. In Atlas Court, we have had to patch and mend and that has go on for too long.

“It is a new system in the capital programme. Big sums of money, £12m over two years, it is a big programme.”

Dr Billings also acknowledged mistakes had been made in staffing levels at Atlas Court.

“Getting the staffing levels right is a judgement call against the background of cuts. Numbers were allowed to go too low at one point so additional staff have been brought in.”

He said new workers are currently being trained and should be ready to handle calls from June.

Dr Billings said the police have to work to ‘deflect demand’ from 101 as around 30 per cent of calls to the number do not concerns policing matters.

“Many of them are of the kind that my budgerigar is stuck in a tree, will you send a police officer to come and get them down?

“We have got to get the public to recognise the system can be abused in that way.”