THE commissioner of a police force which has faced repeated criticism over the time taken to answer calls has rejected proposals to set a deadline for the force to meet national phone response targets.

North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner Julia Mulligan faced pressure from members of North Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Panel to implement answering targets for its 101 and 999 lines despite reporting significant improvements over the last month.

In recent years the panel has regularly called for more action to cut call waiting times.

Between July 12 and August 11 there were 19,061 calls to the force’s non-emergency 101 line, which took on average five minutes and eight seconds to be answered. More than a quarter – 26.9 per cent – of the calls were abandoned.

The following 31 days saw a similar 101 demand on the force’s control room with 18,239 calls, but after the launch of a new control room shift pattern saw calls were answered in three minutes and five seconds on average, with 16.3 per cent of calls abandoned. The meeting was told one month’s performance was enough to evaluate the long-term effect of the new shift patterns, but it was believed the changes had been positive.

Panel member Paula Stott said: “It’s good to see progress. There has been demonstrable progress with 999 calls over the last month. The average time to answer is now 14.3 seconds, but the national target is 10 seconds I think. Have you got a time target of when you think you’re going to meet the 10 seconds?”

Another panel member, Councillor Keith Aspden said the number of people abandoning calls in July had been “extremely worrying”, and despite the significant improvement, the volume of callers hanging up remained a major concern.

He said the only reason for not setting a target was that it made it difficult for the public to hold an individual to account.

Cllr Aspden told Mrs Mulligan: “There’s been a lot of public conversations. Do we need to set a deadline for performance improvements? Having an open-ended one doesn’t seem good enough given the types of calls that these are. If the police had plans that are realistic, and presumably you’ve judged them to be realistic, I don’t see why it is beyond the wit of man to say actually based on the police’s operation plan in 12 months’ time or 24 months’ time.”

Mrs Mulligan said setting arbitrary targets of a “randomly selected month” would be unhelpful and meaningless.

She said the force “couldn’t have more focus” on improving call answering times if they tried and that she would hold the police to account over call answering times at her monthly public accountability meeting with senior police officers. Mrs Mulligan said: “I think the 999s will come into line in the next month and it is largely to do with call volumes. I could set a target of October for meeting the 999 call target, but then we could get another 20 per cent increase in calls coming into the control room which means that target is meaningless. I need to be focused on whether they are doing the work they need to do to solve the problem.”