MORE than 1500 people have applied for a job at an under-pressure police call centre in the last six months.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said 40 new starts were being trained every month at Bilston Glen in Midlothian.
She was speaking hours after Police Scotland was urged to suspend the planned closure of call centres in the north and keep them fully staffed until a new area control room is fully operational.
Remaining personnel in the understaffed Aberdeen, Inverness and Dundee call centres are facing “unacceptably high” pressures and the practice of diverting overflow calls to the Central Belt, including Bilston Glen, is creating additional risk to the public, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) concluded.
Justice Secretary Michael Matheson directed HMICS to examine call handling following the deaths of John Yuill and Lamara Bell, who lay undiscovered for days despite a sighting of their wrecked car being reported to Bilston Glen. The incident is also being investigated by the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner.
HMICS visited call centres in Govan, Motherwell, Dundee, Aberdeen, Inverness and Bilston Glen, and interviewed 45 staff.
Officials also conducted 29 focus groups involving approximately 180 staff, observed daily and weekly management meetings, observed staff at work and analysed more than 1500 performance documents.
They audited 1500 calls and 3826 responses to a public questionnaire on police satisfaction.
The report noted that targets for answering 999 and 101 calls are currently being met at Govan, Motherwell and Bilston Glen, and are improving.
However, HMICS noted there have been “significant issues with poor performance in the recent past”.
The report states: “We consider that this will not be fully resolved until (i) the service centres in Govan, Motherwell and Bilston Glen are fully functional with the full complement of trained staff supported by stable systems and processes which are capable of taking the additional call demand from the north and (ii) the new area control room in Dundee is fully operational.”
After the report was published, Ms Sturgeon told First Minister’s Questions that an “active recruitment campaign” at Bilston Glen was proving successful.
Responding to criticism from Labour leader and Lothian MSP Kezia Dugdale over her handling of the police, she said: “There have been questions around Bilston Glen in particular but since March, Police Scotland has had an active recruitment campaign and it has had 1600 applications. Recruitment and training is now under way and around 40 new starts are undergoing training each month. So, improvements are being made.”