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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 22 May 2018

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motion, Topical Question Time, Police Call Handling, One Minute’s Silence, Police Call Handling, Disability Employment Gap, Presiding Officer’s Ruling, Decision Time, Restorative Justice


Police Call Handling

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

The next item of business is a ministerial statement by Michael Matheson on police call handling. We will have a minute’s silence following the minister’s statement and then resume this item of business, but I still urge members who wish to ask questions to press their request-to-speak buttons as soon as possible.


The Cabinet Secretary for Justice (Michael Matheson)

I am grateful for the opportunity to update Parliament on progress with the transformation of Police Scotland’s approach to call handling. In July 2015, I directed Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary in Scotland to undertake an independent assurance review of the operation of and systems in Police Scotland’s contact, command and control division. That review resulted in 30 recommendations for improvement, and the inspectorate has worked closely with Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority to implement wide-ranging changes in the period since then.

In January 2017, HMICS published an update report that indicated good progress, and I am pleased to confirm that a final report has been published today, which again shows improvement. Indeed, HMICS has confirmed this morning that all 30 of the recommendations relating to its initial assurance review have now been discharged. In doing so, the inspectorate has commended the police service for the considerable priority that it has rightly attached to that work. It is important that we, too, recognise the efforts of all those involved.

As a result of those efforts, Police Scotland has delivered a revised and stabilised staffing model for police call handling, ensuring that the service has the right number of people at the right time to manage the demands that it faces; an improved approach to training, ensuring that those same individuals have the skills that they need to support members of the public who seek assistance, often in the most distressing and high-risk circumstances; and improved stability in key information and communications technology infrastructure and systems, giving call handlers the tools that they need to deliver the best service that they can.

The service has also implemented a number of important controls to ensure that it maintains the necessary high standards that the public expect. Those include the establishment of a new dedicated quality assurance unit for contact, command and control and the implementation of a notable incidents process, which allows the service to learn from calls that have not been handled as they should have been.

That process, and the calls highlighted through it, have of course been the subject of previous exchanges in the chamber. Although the service would recognise that such incidents are a cause for regret, the process highlights the service’s commitment to minimising the likelihood of the same mistakes being made again. That is key to openness, accountability and continuous improvement, which is why it is so important. Of course, as recognised by HMICS in today’s report, the reality is that we will never entirely eradicate risk when it comes to police call handling. It is a human endeavour and humans can make mistakes.

In terms of the broader context, over the past weekend, Police Scotland dealt with more than 5,500 999 calls and roughly 16,000 calls to the 101 service. In total, the service dealt with more than 16,000 individual incidents requiring some form of police response, of which 470 related to missing persons and 670 related to domestic incidents. The service also dealt with 43 separate firearm incidents. I say that simply to outline the scale and complexity of policing and police call handling in Scotland today.

HMICS reports that, overall, police call handling continues to perform well. Grade of service—the time taken to answer calls—is strong, with 91 per cent of 999 calls being answered within 10 seconds. The number of discontinued calls is proportionately low and continues to drop. Upwards of 94 per cent of members of the public who contact Police Scotland over the phone are satisfied with the service that they receive. Benchmarking Police Scotland’s call handling against that of other forces is not straightforward, so the service has worked to identify alternative ways to assess the quality of the service that it provides. To that end, in February this year, the service secured formal accreditation from the Customer Contact Association.

Those achievements are down to the highly skilled and dedicated call handlers who work on our behalf each and every day. I welcome the steps that the service is taking to give credit to those individuals, who were recognised at Police Scotland’s annual C3 awards ceremony last month.

As I have already touched on, the improvements have been delivered throughout a period of significant change, with far-reaching work being undertaken to remodel Police Scotland’s approach to call handling. The effective management of that change, which has included the establishment of a single service centre to receive calls from across the country and the redesign of the service’s approach to incident control, has been recognised by HMICS as a model of good practice.

The adoption of robust planning and governance processes has delivered increased confidence, while more effective communication within the C3 division has had a positive impact on the morale of staff and officers, all of whom will have been affected in some shape or form. As a result, Police Scotland now has an approach to call handling that will allow the public to experience the full benefits that come from a single police service. Spikes in call volume can be managed more effectively, resources can be deployed more flexibly and national incidents can be gripped in a way that was not previously possible.

Of course, the hallmark of any effective organisation is its ability to continuously improve, and that is what we expect of Police Scotland going forward. The additional recommendations in the latest HMICS report should guide those efforts, and I am reassured that they align well with the wider programme of transformation that is being taken forward as part of the service’s 2026 strategy. Good progress has been made, but more can always be done, and Police Scotland must maintain the momentum that it has now built.

The service’s work to implement a new contact assessment model will ensure that future deployment decisions are based on a more robust understanding of risk and vulnerability, while the service’s contact strategy will enable the public to engage with the service in a way that best meets their needs. The Scottish Government is supporting that work, including through the provision of £400,000 last year to support investment in new technology for C3. That builds on the £1.4 million that we made available to support initial improvements in call handling back in 2015.

Of course, it is for the Scottish Police Authority to ensure that the necessary progress is being made in these areas. To that end, the authority is currently considering the establishment of a dedicated committee to focus on police reform and transformation, and I welcome that. That scrutiny will continue to be supported by HMICS, which will turn its attention to another critical part of the policing jigsaw in the coming year—the interface between area control rooms and local police divisions.

I put on the record my continuing appreciation for the work of the inspectorate and I offer particular thanks to the recently retired HM chief inspector of constabulary for Scotland, Derek Penman, for the valuable contribution that he has made.

Although we must never be complacent, I am confident that our police call handlers are better placed than ever to support communities in meeting the changing threats that they face. I look forward to seeing how the improvements that I have described today can help to lead to better outcomes for the people of Scotland.

The Presiding Officer

The cabinet secretary will take questions on his statement slightly later. I will suspend the meeting for just over a minute, and then we will mark the minute’s silence at half past 2.

14:28 Meeting suspended.  14:29 On resuming—