POLICE are taking twice as long as last year to answer 999 calls, as force bosses continue to try to cope with Government cuts.

Figures obtained exclusively by The Press show that emergency calls to North Yorkshire Police are now being answered after nine seconds on average, up from four seconds last summer.

The proportion of 999 calls answered within the target of ten seconds has fallen from 94 per cent in August 2010 to 77 per cent in August 2011.

Superintendent Glyn Payne, the officer in charge of the control room behind York Police station, insisted the situation was going to improve and said crime and antisocial behaviour were falling in York, but he said things “had to get worse before they got better” on the phones.

The delays follow a major structural overhaul at the force earlier this year, which saw the closure of the force’s Newby Wiske control room. All control room staff are now in one base at Fulford Road.

Supt Payne said the slower times were influenced by a number of factors including redundancies, staff leaving voluntarily, staff being taken out for further training, and the loss of switchboard staff, which has meant control staff having to deal with more non-emergency calls.

The new figures, released under the Freedom of Information Act, show that in June, July and August this year, police answered calls after an average of ten, nine and nine seconds. Last year, the figure was four seconds in all three months.

In June 2010, 95 per cent were answered within the ten-second target but this fell to 71 in June 2011. The July figure fell from 96 per cent to 77 per cent, and the August figure from 94 per cent to 77 per cent.

Sup Payne said that while this year’s average was nine or ten seconds, the majority of calls were still answered within four seconds, albeit some were significantly slower.

The time taken to answer non-emergency calls, on the force’s 0845 6060247 number, has also risen, but remains within the 30-second national target.

The June figure rose from eight seconds to 20 from 2010 to 2011; the July figure rose from seven seconds to 25; and the August figure from nine seconds to 19.

Supt Payne said that the force had faced a number of difficulties in the past four months, including the riots in August.

During that time, the force helped colleagues in West and South Yorkshire to deal with a high volume of of calls, and officers were also sent to London to help the Met.

He said that during the switch from two control rooms to one, the force had had to cope with fewer staff, and a a number of staff who moved to York then felt the move was not right and left, meaning the force was understaffed.

He said that at the same time, staff had to cope with a surge of telephone traffic which had previously been dealt with by switchboard staff who had then been laid off.

Supt Payne said a number of measures were now being put in place to stem the delay in answering emergency calls, including a new automated switchboard service in November.

He said the force currently received about 465,000 non-urgent calls each year and about 75,000 emergency calls, of which about 200,000 were requests to speak to police officers.

He said the new automated switchboard service would allow people to directly contact the officer and let them leave a voicemail, which would help reduce repeat callers.

Supt Payne said a number of calls were also “irresponsible”, with examples including requests for shop opening times or road routes - while one person even asked if an officer could take his bin out while he was on holiday.

In August, North Yorkshire Police received 40,935 calls to its non-emergency number, and 7,048 call to the emergency 999 number.