Thames Valley Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Matthew Barber will consider delving into cash reserves to solve worsening 101 call response times.
Dialling 101 enables the public to contact the police in non-emergency situations, but waiting times to get through to a call handler in Thames Valley, the region that covers Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire, have rocketed since June 2021.
Having hovered either side of the two-minute mark before that, pick-up times reported at Thames Valley’s Performance and Management meeting were under a minute for four months in a row until July 2021.
Despite some fluctuations, the waits have typically increased, spiking at 9.6 minutes in September 2022 to date.
More than a third – 34 per cent – of callers had waited 10 minutes or more in September up to the publication of the report, another figure that has typically increased month by month has been at zero in June 2021.
Mr Barber was quizzed on the matter by the Thames Valley Police & Crime Panel. His annual report for 2021-22 had been due for discussion in June, but delays caused by a political squabble over who would chair the panel meant that did not take place until last week.
On 101, the report said: “a more strategic solution is expected in the summer”, with Mr Barber telling the panel last week that chief constable John Campbell had been tasked with firming up how to increase staff numbers.
“Privately, he has given me the outline of what’s needed,” said Mr Barber.
“The force has internally reviewed the resourcing numbers. In the past, there have been incremental increases in resources for contact management, but they have taken a more fundamental view of actually looking at the length of call times, the volumes anticipated, and some of the business practices in place.
“Using all of that methodology, (what is needed) will clearly be a significant increase in staff. I have said that needs to happen urgently.
“We are coming up to setting the budget for the new year. I would like to think we don’t need to wait that long. For some of the increase in staff, we may need additional space, frankly, so this is not just about getting up to numbers; it is about a big increase.
“My view is that would form part of the budget process for next year, but I think it is of a scale of urgency that if those plans can be brought into place further, we need to look at the use of reserves in the meantime.
“We cannot just wait until I sign off the budget next year, you (the panel) give it the stamp of approval, we wait for the new financial year to kick in and then someone starts thinking about implementing the plan. We need to get ahead of that.
“They are still working through the details of some of the property stuff (equipment), what would be needed, but as soon as we have that plan, I want us to get cracking with it.”