Call centre closures slammed as ‘criminally reckless’

Harsh criticism has been levelled at the Scottish government following the go-ahead of plans to close emergency control centres in Inverness and Aberdeen.

Jonathan Wills, who sits on the community safety and resilience board, has described the Scottish government as “criminally reckless” in its actions.
SCT vice-chairman Jonathan Wills.
He has been supported by board chairman, Alastair Cooper, who says the move represents “a backwards step” and warned the implications could initially be worse than first feared.

This week it emerged all 101 and 999 calls will go through to a national service centre based at Bilston Glen, Govan and Motherwell, from late June. A regional control room in Dundee will subsequently be called upon to act as a command centre for incidents in the north of Scotland. The move was put on hold last year following a fatal crash on the M9, in which it took police three days to attend the scene.

Dr Wills has been particularly angered by the decision, not least because it comes just one month after he made calls for a feasibility study to be carried out into the possibility of opening a dedicated 999 centre in the isles.

He believes having a centre here would ensure local accents are more easily understood. Call handlers, he says, would be better able to understand certain geographical quirks, such as different places with the same name.

And he has dismissed the community safety and resilience board as “just a talking shop”, arguing police and fire representatives feel unable to speak out at them because to do so would effectively lead to them openly criticising their employers.

“It’s outrageous, and extremely reckless. In my view, it’s criminally reckless of the government.
“I’ve repeatedly raised at the community resilience safety committee the need for a locally staffed emergency call centre.”

Dr Wills stressed he was in favour of having a national police service. But he said he did not believe that should preclude the isles from having a local emergency response centre.

“I really despair. The community safety committee has discussed this repeatedly, and nothing has happened. It’s clear the Police Scotland bosses are just ignoring these community safety and resilience committees. The old police committee had power. We have none. It’s just a talking shop.

“All the [emergency] services are represented on the community safety board. But you can’t ask the police officers and the fire officers to vote on something like this, because they’d be voting against their employers’ policy.

“David Cameron has threatened to deport Muslim women who can’t speak English. Frankly, is somebody in Dundee going to understand somebody in Whalsay, or the West Side of Orkney, or the Western Isles?
“It’s not possible for one member of staff in Dundee to know anything at all about the difference between one Sandwick in Orkney and one Sandwick in Shetland.”

He suggested scrapping the Trident defence system to help make up any financial shortfall in providing the local service.

“A simple common-sense way to run this is to have a locally-staffed centre, and if it cost a lot of money, there are other things the government could scrap, starting with Trident.”
Dr Wills said he would raise the issue at the next community safety board meeting, which is due to take place next Thursday.

Mr Cooper warned the move could have serious consequences for communities such as Shetland.
He said a situation would emerge where calls from the Highlands and Islands or Aberdeen could go to Johnstone in Renfrewshire, but it would be up to staff in Dundee to dispatch an officer to the scene of an incident.

“You could have a situation where there is a garbled message given to somebody in Johnstone, which is then transferred as a garbled message to somebody in Dundee.

“It’s actually more scary as you think. I think that it’s a backward step.” ALASTAIR COOPER

“It’s actually more scary as you think. I think that it’s a backward step, at least in the short-term until you get properly organised with it.

“With technology nowadays, it is possible. But when I hear the likes of that, where only Dundee can dispatch an officer, you realise it’s not as joined up as it could be.”

Asked if he supported Dr Wills’ calls for a locally-based 999 centre, he said he favoured longer opening hours of the police station.

“Ideally we could have the police station open 24/7. The thing is, if you actually have a control room in Shetland … there is a lot more cost, and we all ken the police force in Scotland is struggling with cost at the moment.”

Mr Cooper said he had been due to hold a meeting with control room operators next month. However, that meeting had been postponed and was now not due to take place until March.

He said Highland Council had “not given up” on the idea of keeping the centre in Inverness.
Isles MSP, Tavish Scott, said the SNP-led authority should think again.

“The Scottish government should tell Police Scotland to reverse this decision and retain both the Aberdeen and Inverness control rooms.

“This will be a step backwards in terms of placing 999 calls to the police.

“After the shambles of recent events involving police control rooms, there can be no justification for this change and I fear for the ability of people to get through to someone who even knows where Shetland is, never mind have accurate descriptions understood of where an incident might be happening.”

Asked whether technical features in control room equipment might overcome a lack of geographical knowledge, he added: “They said that about the incident where two people died on the M9.

“I’ve lost patience with Police Scotland and the Scottish government’s reliance on so-called technical solutions.

“All the technology in the world sometimes just doesn’t work. There are real risks with what is being proposed and the government should step in and stop it.”

The Shetland Times tried to contact SNP Scottish election candidate Danus Skene for a comment, but he failed to respond to calls before we went to press.

In an unattributed statement, Police Scotland said: “Today, staff were informed of the latest developments, which include potential dates for changes to be implemented.

“This is an indicative timeline which will be subject to scrutiny and independent review prior to implementation, in keeping with HMICS recommendations.

“This is essential to enable effective planning and part of our commitment to keep the staff informed of all developments.

“We also informed them that we plan to work towards moving all 101 and 999 emergency calls from Dundee into the national virtual service centre, based at Bilston Glen, Govan and Motherwell, with effect from late June 2016.

“By late August 2016 we propose to have moved all telephony within Inverness (101 and 999 calls) to the national virtual service centre and at the same time all command and control functionality will pass across to Dundee regional control room.

“By late October 2016, in a similar fashion to Inverness, it is proposed all telephony and command and control functionality will switch from Aberdeen to the national virtual service centre and the Dundee regional control room.

“Police Scotland remains committed to protecting our front line delivery and therefore the pace of change will be managed in a safe and assured way. No changes will be implemented until they have been approved by Scottish Police Authority.”


Add Your Comment
  • Kathy Greaves

    • January 30th, 2016 13:12

    I totally agree with Jonathan Wills on this matter. It seems, once again, that little thought has been given to the safety of the people who live and work in this area, not just the people who live in in Shetland, but North Sea offshore workers, and travellers by plane and by sea who might find themselves in difficulty and need a quick response in an emergency.

    Not only will central belt call centre workers have difficulty in understanding some of our accents, but we may have the same trouble trying to understand theirs, which could lead to misinformation being passed on, and delays in help being received.

    An autonomous Shetland would be able to organise emergency services suitable to our needs.

  • Andrew Holt

    • January 30th, 2016 17:06

    Oh, Jonathan, welcome to the wonderful world of Scotland’s future under perpetual SNP rule. A sort of MacVenezuala. It takes an almighty shift in the tectonic plates of any government to devolve real power and the supreme soviet in Edinburgh, having tasted the real thing are not about to share it. Incidentally I didn’t quite get the relevance of the swipe at David Cameron and deporting women who couldn’t speak English. I see from a recent survey of international standards in literacy and numeracy conducted by the OECD that British young people come somewhere near the bottom. Maybe we should deport some of them too!

  • iantinkler

    • January 30th, 2016 17:21

    So typical of SG/SNP centralisation. Trying to save a few pennies at the cost of people’s lives, will they ever learn? (the car accident on the M9 in July. 3 days two deaths

  • David Spence

    • January 31st, 2016 1:07

    I totally agree with Jonathan and Kathy, in regards to frontline emergency services being more localized than what is being proposed.

    However, I am intrigued as to whether or not the SNP are being forced into a situation of centralization of these services as a result of Westminster cutting the budgets given to Scotland via the Barnett Formula (which I am pretty sure can easily be manipulated) and giving a ‘ no choice option ‘ to the Scottish Parliament?

    I am deeply sceptical of any political decisions by Westminster (regretfully, there is no credible opposition to the Tories now, so they can do as they please) which can have serious consequences for Scotland, and the infrastructures within. No doubt we will hear the usual garbage of austerity cuts being responsible, initially, for such a move as to restructure such emergency services and to repost them elsewhere.

    In short, like everything this Tory Government is doing, it is either a cost saving exercise (so as the tories can give more of the tax payers money to their business buddies, but keep silent about it) or the preparation for privatization.

    Anything this Government does, you will always be worse off.

  • iantinkler

    • January 31st, 2016 16:29

    I am deeply sceptical of any political decisions by Edinburgh(regretfully, there is no credible opposition to the SNP now, so they can do as they please) which can have serious consequences for Shetland, and the infrastructures within. No doubt we will hear the usual garbage of austerity cuts being responsible, initially, for such a move as to restructure such emergency services and to repost them elsewhere.
    In short, like everything this SG/SNP Government is doing, it is either a cost saving exercise and will just blame the Tories and Westminster. !David spence you are priceless!!) lol

  • Gordon Harmer

    • January 31st, 2016 17:29

    I am so glad to see this from Dr Wills, it sounds a bit more like his old self where he said the following in an interview with Shetland Life a few years ago. “I think the SNP are a serious threat to the stability of this country. I am British and glad of it, like many of mixed Shetland and English or Scottish ancestry. Independence is unnecessary, expensive, damaging to the economy, socially disruptive and probably unachievable anyway in a Europe of the Regions. I believe the people of Scotland will want to try out devolution in the new parliament and see how we get on”. Good to see you fully awake and back on track Jonathan, keep up the good work.

  • Allen Fraser

    • February 1st, 2016 9:33

    Another edict of arrogant, condescending nonsense from Dr Wills. He believes that indigenous Shetlanders are unable to make themselves understood to non-dialect speakers.
    Are Shetlanders not taught Queen’s English in the country schools he is so desperate to close?
    Are we not able to make ourselves understood by clearly speaking English when we travel all over the British Isles and abroad?
    Are we not understood by the many tens of thousands of English speaking tourists that visit Shetland every year?
    If we are understood in all these situations, then what makes talking to an operator in a call centre in Dundee or anywhere else in Scotland any different?
    If ‘Wills’s Law of Speech and Diction’ were applied elsewhere then no one from Shetland could be employed in a call-centre anywhere in Scotland just in case someone with an accent from Govan or Peterhead calls in.
    If he gets his local call-centre set up in Lerwick then presumably by his reckoning ‘Soothmoothers’ need not apply for a job there.

  • John Tulloch

    • February 1st, 2016 12:51

    As Kathy has pointed out, an autonomous Shetland would be in control of all its own emergency services.

    A single point of control for all makes a lot of sense and it needn’t be expensive, you could simply make it an extension of the local police force with the additional benefit of keeping the police station open 24hr a day, 365 days a year.

    Jonathan and Alastair are 100 percent right on this one.


Add Your Comment

Please note, it is the policy of The Shetland Times to publish comments and letters from named individuals only. Both forename and surname are required.

Comments are moderated. Contributors must observe normal standards of decency and tolerance for the opinions of others.

The views expressed are those of contributors and not of The Shetland Times.

The Shetland Times reserves the right to decline or remove any contribution without notice or stating reason.

Comments are limited to 200 words but please email longer articles or letters to for consideration and include a daytime telephone number and your address. If emailing information in confidence please put "Not for publication" in both the subject line and at the top of the main message.

200 words left

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Get Latest News in Your Inbox

Join the The Shetland Times mailing list to get one daily email update at midday on what's happening in Shetland.