DEMAND on police phone lines is higher now that last summer, but a new facility in York is aiming to help reduce call waiting times.

As reported in The Press, callers to the non-emergency 101 number faced waiting times of several minutes last year, with many calls abandoned before being answered.

This was due in part to an increased volume of calls - a trend seen throughout the country - but also due to staff shortages and problems with computer systems which, at times, forced police to use social media and urge the public not to phone the non-emergency number, and in August last year, 47 per cent of 999 calls were answered outside of target times, while 32 per cent of non-emergency calls were abandoned before being answered.

In March, Police and Crime Commissioner Julia Mulligan announced £3m investment in the FCR over two years, with the creation of a new facility in Fulford Road, where new full-time staff could be trained with state-of-the-art IT equipment in new training and tutoring rooms.

Chief Inspector Charlotte Bloxham, head of the FCR, said the force was "almost up to where we need to be in terms of staffing", and the new facility - which became fully operational in June - was already making a difference.

She said: "It was well publicised in the last 12 months the increases in demand we've experienced in North Yorkshire and nationally as well. We've recognised that, and the need to be able to recruit more staff to be able to answer the calls coming in. That's the reason for the new facility, to have enhanced capability to be able to recruit and train more staff at one time so we're running a rolling recruitment programme.

"We're having that rolling programme to ensure we can keep those levels up. I'm hoping the public will notice compared to last year that we're answering the calls much more quickly. Even though demand now is higher than it was last summer - which is unprecedented - and is much higher than it has ever been, we are actually getting to those calls in a much quicker time."

Temporary Chief Constable Lisa Winward said: "Over the past 12 months there has been a concerted effort to increase recruitment into the control room but of course we needed the additional facilities for tutoring and for those additional staff to have places to sit and deliver a service so we've already seen an improvement in the call handling, particularly in 999.

"In June we saw about 7,600 calls for service on our 999 system and we were able to answer those in an average of 8.3 seconds, as a result of some of the additional staff who have already joined us. However, we're still not delivering a good enough service on 101 to members of the public that call us with essential information or who need our help and this is the way in which we can improve that service going forward by having the facilities to tutor and train people to answer those calls."

Julia Mulligan, Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire, said funding for the new FCR had not come from the police budget, but from extra money raised by the increased police precept, and admitted the force's response to unprecedented demand had been inadequate, and high numbers remained "quite a significant challenge".

She said: "This is needed because the service to the public hasn't been as good as we would have liked it to have been so we have made a major investment.

"It [101/999 response], was number one on the list. It's really important that people have the confidence to call the police. Without people calling the police, they won't know what's going on and won't be able to respond to it so it isn't just the big 999 incidents that are important, although they are very important, it's also the day to day things - the information, the intelligence the public pass on to the police - that make it so important, so it absolutely has to be answered in a timely manner."