Demand is for isles-based 999 call centre, says Wills

A councillor has spoken out after the head of Scotland’s police watchdog said new technology should help alleviate concerns over local knowledge in the wake of police control room closures in the north of Scotland.

Chairman of the Scottish Police Authority, Andrew Flannagan, sparked concerns when he said information technology would play a “significant role” in supporting the co-ordination of police responses.

Jonathan Wills, who previously voiced support for an isles-based 999 centre amid concerns over a lack of local knowledge from central belt telephone operators and a possible struggle to understand local accents, insists Mr Flannagan is “out of tune with the public mood”.

Dr Wills says the moves by Police Scotland, which have been all the more controversial since a fatal M9 crash last year which police failed to investigate for three days, is an example of “technophilia” – an enthusiasm for new technologies.

He highlighted the IT problems in making subsidy payments to farmers and crofters as an example of where computer systems can go wrong.

He said Mr Flannagan was “wrong” and “mistaken” in his beliefs

“So, the technology’s there, but the knowledge isn’t,” Dr Wills said.

“I know what the public mood is and it is to restore a local 999 call answering service so that emergencies can be dealt with promptly and effectively.

Jonathan Wills
Jonathan Wills insists that the public demand is for a locally-based emergency call centre.

“We had that for over 100 years, since the invention of the telephone. I would remind Mr Flannagan that the public pays his wages, and eventually they will have to do what the public want.

“It’s an example of technophilia. They assume that the new equipment can do everything. And so often we find, as we’ve found with the crofters’ payments, the new equipment often isn’t all that clever.

“And so often it’s cheaper and simpler to have a local person with common sense who understands the local accents, and knows the local geography, and no amount of technology is ever going to substitute for that.”

Mr Flannagan said control room operators were immediately given details, including a map of the area, through their computer systems of where an incident was taking place.

“The SPA understands concerns around a perceived loss of local knowledge as a result of the changes which are being progressed to restructure how Police Scotland receives and manages calls to 999 and 101,” he said.

“However, I would seek to reassure communities in this regard.

“Just last week, I visited the contact centre in Inverness to meet staff and officers working on the frontline of this important function in the north and I was reassured by what I saw and heard.

“It is clear that advances in technology has a significant role to play in supporting the how we improve service delivery in this area. Before a call is answered for example, technology provides critical reference information such as where a call is coming from even pinpointing it on a map.

“From speaking to the staff who work in Inverness, I know one of their biggest concerns was in understanding accents, local dialects or the use of local colloquialisms by callers, however they also told me how quickly they have managed to build up this specific local knowledge.

“Our objective as an authority is to ensure that change and reform delivers service benefits for the public in all parts of Scotland, and that we improve efficiency so we live within our budget and keep policing strong and visible in our communities.


“From speaking to the staff who work in Inverness, I know one of their biggest concerns was in understanding accents, local dialects or the use of local colloquialisms by callers, however they also told me how quickly they have managed to build up this specific local knowledge.” ANDREW FLANNAGAN

“We remain convinced that reform of control centres is the best current way of contributing to those twin objectives and would seek to reassure the communities in the north and islands of Scotland that the SPA will ensure the service is ready before any further transition takes place across the country.”

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Earlier this year 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, resulting in the closure of centres in Inverness and Aberdeen.

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 the M9 incident.

Chairman of the resilience board, Alastair Cooper, previously warned a situation could emerge where messages from the Highlands 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.

South Mainland member, Allison Duncan, has since called upon Police Scotland’s chief constable, Phil Gormley – who recently succeeded Sir Stephen House as the country’s top police officer – to come to the isles and hear for himself concerns surrounding centralisation of emergency call centres.


Add Your Comment
  • John White

    • March 15th, 2016 15:18

    I totally agree with Jonathan.
    Might I suggest that we already have a local emergency centre that is manned 24 hours a day by fully qualified emergency incident controllers, namely our local Maritime Coastguard Agency control centre at the Knab. These qualified officers already have authority to call out the emergency tug, the rescue helicopter, the lifeboats, the local MCA rescue teams and I am sure that they communicate and deal with all the other blue light services as well. With maybe some additional training it surely is common sense to expand their remit to handle all 999 calls for both Orkney and Shetland. It might require a small increase in staff but the overall cost would be far less than establishing a completely new set-up. I am sure that any additional pay for the current officers to compensate for the increased workload would be welcome.

    • John Tulloch

      • March 15th, 2016 16:48

      Well said, John. I also agree 100 percent with Jonathan and I think your suggestion of using the coastguard control room for local emergencies is a particularly good one.

      I hardly need say that, in an autonomous Shetland, implementation of this would not be an issue, it would be straightforward..

  • John Tulloch

    • March 15th, 2016 16:54

    If it doesn’t matter where the control rooms are based, why not close the the Bilston Glen, Govan and Motherwell call centres and route all the calls through Aberdeen and Inverness?

  • Johan Adamson

    • March 16th, 2016 8:51

    It doesnt matter, with all the wind turbines planned we will all be forced to live in the central belt along with everyone else. The SNP have no positive policies to keep us in the north, they only create jobs where there are already jobs so everybody can get stuck on the M8 or Edinburgh city bypass. Highland clearances revisited.

  • George Dickson

    • March 16th, 2016 10:21

    “Before a call is answered for example, technology provides critical reference information such as where a call is coming from even pinpointing it on a map.” Does the information provided pinpoint the building that the call is coming from or does it pinpoint the street, town or more likely, the country that the call is made from?


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