POLICE chiefs should be ready to make a decision next month on how to improve the service for callers trying to contact the South Yorkshire force as the Chief Constable revealed they would need an extra 132 staff to provide an ‘optimum’ telephone service at peak times.New computer equipment costing millions of pounds has been installed at the force’s Atlas Court communications centre but it is acknowledged that is not enough to cope with the volume of calls staff have to deal with.

A review of how the centre operates has been going on for months and a business plan is expected to be ready for Chief Constable Steven Watson and his senior commanders to consider next month.

It will set out the available options, with the expectation the force will look for a ‘middle ground’ which provides an improved service without costing so much it would mean spending cash that is really needed to maintain front line services.

Details of the developments emerged at a meeting of South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings’ Public Accountability Board, where he holds the South Yorkshire force to account for its performance.

Mr Watson told the meeting: “Public contact with police is really important. There is an ongoing review into Atlas Court that is coming to an end.

“A business case is expected to land with us within the month. It will provide a number of options around service delivery,” he said.

The difficulty the force faced was balancing resources and demand: “Our default position is to work as hard as we can with what we have got.

“We have invested heavily in technology. We have to work a lot smarter within that environment, we have already seen quite a bit of improvement. Abandonment rates are falling, response times are improving.

“The reality is if you take the requirement for optimum performance at a time of maximum demand, we would need to resource the room with another 132 call handlers.

“Clearly, we don’t have those resources. We have, within the business case, to work out a middle way between expending money we don’t have and investing sensibly to fund better performance in the room,” he said.

* Provided by the Local Democracy Reporting Service.