The average Police Scotland response time to answer 101 calls from the public has increased by more than a minute, figures have revealed.
The typical time taken to answer calls to the non-emergency number rose from three minutes 17 seconds in 2021/22 to four minutes 27 seconds in 2022/23, according to the force’s quarterly performance report.
The 36% rise comes as police officer numbers have fallen to their lowest level since 2008.
And it follows warnings about government budget cuts from outgoing chief constable Sir Iain Livingstone.
He said in an interview last year that call response times would increase as the force’s resources were stretched further.
Scottish Conservative shadow justice secretary Russell Findlay described the figures as an “unacceptable but entirely predictable result”.
He warned it could have a knock-on effect by causing frustrated callers to hang up and dial 999 instead, which risks clogging up the emergency line.
Scottish Conservative shadow justice secretary Russell Findlay MSP, said: “These lengthy waiting times are an unacceptable but entirely predictable result of the SNP’s underfunding of Police Scotland.
“Overstretched officers and staff are doing their very best, but they are being deprived of the resources they desperately need to serve the public.
“Callers should not have to wait almost five minutes for a 101 call to be answered. It’s the kind of shoddy experience you might expect from a bank or a utility company – not the police service.
“My concern is that as wait times increase, more frustrated callers might hang up and dial 999 which could add even more pressure to the system.
“Public safety will continue to be put at risk unless SNP ministers make justice and policing a priority rather than an afterthought.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Police Scotland call handlers work hard to ensure all calls to the service are answered as quickly and as safely as possible – with priority placed on 999 calls.
“The Scottish Government remains committed to working closely with both the Scottish Police Authority and Police Scotland to ensure we continue to have a safe, protected and resilient Scotland.
“Despite UK Government austerity, and in recognition of the crucial role Police Scotland officers and staff play keeping our communities safe, the service is receiving an additional £80m in resource funding in 2023-24, a 6.3% increase compared to 2022-23.”
Chief superintendent Paul Wilson, Contact, Command and Control divisional commander, said: “Between April 2022 and March 2023, the number of emergency 999 calls to Police Scotland increased by 5% compared to the previous year, and as the public would expect we will always prioritise calls to the 999 service to ensure we can assist those people who need our urgent help. During this busy period our 999 answering times remained below 10 seconds.
“When we respond to increased emergency 999 calls there may be longer waiting times for our non-emergency 101 service, however we do offer an online ContactUs facility, via our website, to report non-urgent matters which will save members of the public from having to wait for their call to be answered.
“Usage of ContactUs has significantly increased and all enquiries are dealt with by the same service advisors who take non-emergency 101 calls. As part of our commitment to improving the service we provide, we have also increased our Service Centre resources to ensure there is additional capacity during the busier summer months, as well as having mechanisms in place to support periods when we experience high contact volumes.”