The data, based on 5.2 million 999 calls across the UK between last November and April, showed that 29 per cent of them were not answered within a target time of 10 seconds. This would equate to about three million a year.
Only 11 forces – a quarter of the 44 constabulary – were within target and had an average time to respond. Northumbria took the longest time, averaging 33.3 seconds. In contrast, Lincolnshire and Avon and Somerset took an average of only six seconds for each of their calls.
All forces take more than a minute to respond to one in 20,999 calls, which is equivalent to 500,000 per year and six times the target time-frame. It ranged from 16 percent in Northumbria to none in Northamptonshire.
A Home Office source said: “With considerable variation across the country, this information will empower all forces to make their service live up to the expectations of the public.”
Rick Muir, director of the Police Foundation – which headed a commission on the future of policing – said reaction time was critical in saving lives, protecting people from harm and solving crime. “Reaction speed is essential,” he said. “The fact is they’re not hitting the target.”
David Wilson, professor of criminology at the University of Birmingham, said the combination of rising crime, falling prosecution rates and long response times is worrying. “This is part of a pattern where we are being given second rate service from a first class organization,” he said.
This follows warnings by the HM Inspectorate of Police that forces are at risk of being overwhelmed by an increase in 999 calls driven by a lack of confidence in the non-emergency 101 line. It found that 999 calls increased 11 percent over two years and a quarter of the force was often “overwhelmed” by demand.
Some forces said 30 per cent of the 999 calls now involved issues such as a mental health crisis, which should be dealt with by other organisations, such as the NHS.
This is having an effect on the response time. Freedom of information requests from 22 of 43 police forces in England and Wales suggested that officers were now 28 per cent slower to attend to grade one emergencies after receiving 999 calls than they were six years ago.
According to data obtained by the BBC, it takes an average of three minutes longer to reach serious incidents – from 11 minutes and 20 seconds in 2015, to 14 minutes and 30 seconds in 2021.
Prank calls, delays in connecting and the inappropriate use of 999 to call on issues that are not emergencies can all contribute to delays in responding, said Alan Todd, assistant chief constable for the National Police Chiefs’ Council. .
“We will learn from this data to improve the speed at which 999 calls are answered, so that the public can expect the fastest possible response when they call 999,” he said.
Boris Johnson has previously raised concerns that working from home is less productive. Government Efficiency Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg is tasked with getting civil servants back into office.