M9 crash: Police warned over call centre closure

The Bilston Glen call centre in Midlothian. Picture: Julie Bull
The Bilston Glen call centre in Midlothian. Picture: Julie Bull
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Police were warned about the risks of closing emergency call centres a full 18 months before the M9 crash fiasco, it has emerged.

Control rooms have been centralised and closed as part of cost-cutting measures put in place as the force battles to make savings of more than 
£73 million by 2026.

Nobody is listening to staff and they are not consulting with them

Cameron Buchanan

But yesterday it was revealed a report written by a senior officer last year had highlighted a number of potential problems – such as the loss of experienced staff and a possible threat to public and officer safety.

The news comes as Police Scotland’s Bilston Glen call centre in Midlothian faces criticism over its handling of a call reporting the recent M9 crash – a report which police then failed to follow up.

Police chiefs have admitted they failed the families of John Yuill, 28, and Lamara Bell, 25, who lay undiscovered in the wrecked car near 
Stirling for three days. Mr Yuill was dead when police eventually attended the scene after a second call and Ms Bell died in hospital four days later.

In January last year, a report by Assistant Chief Constable Mike McCormick said reducing the number of call handling centres and replacing them with larger bases would leave officers better placed to respond to incidents.

But the report also drew attention to a number of risks associated with the move, admitting: “Previous experience of remodelling of call handling and command and control arrangements, from policing and other services, has shown that changes may create a misplaced public concern that the service to callers may be diminished due to a lack of local knowledge and sensitivity.”

The document revealed 325 call centre staff had lodged an interest in early retirement or voluntary redundancy – with reports yesterday indicating as many as two-thirds of staff at Bilston Glen had applied to leave.

And last week it emerged more than one in ten staff members at the call centre were on sick leave last month.

Meanwhile, figures released by Scottish Labour showed more than 53,000 working days at Police Scotland had been lost to stress over the past two years – with 10,016 between January and March this year alone.

Lothian Tory MSP Cameron Buchanan said the startling figures demonstrated the “awful” fall in morale across the force, leaving police unable to cope on a day-to-day basis.

He said: “There’s a ten per cent absentee rate, and that’s because morale is so low. It’s really bad, it’s just awful. People don’t stick around when morale is low.

“A lot of people are leaving. Nobody is listening to staff and they are not consulting with them. The way they have handled staff and the morale and the consultation has been awful.”

Assistant Chief Constable Val Thomson said: “We remain committed to the programme of change across our contact, command and control division. Perceived and emerging risks are identified as part of the change programme and mitigated appropriately at every stage of the phased implementation of the project and are subject to the scrutiny of the Scottish Police Authority.”

alistair.grant@edinburghnews.com