POLICE officers in Essex are failing to respond to nearly one in five emergency calls in time.

Essex Police aim to reach at least 90 per cent of 999 calls requesting help within 15 minutes in urban areas and 20 minutes for rural locations.

Between January and March they reached just 81.7 per cent of calls in time.

The introduction of “improvement plans” only raised this figure to 82.9 per cent between April and July.

And the force blamed a huge increase in the number of 999 calls it received for the failures.

Officers were called out to 999 calls 5,279 times between April and May in 2011. Over the same period this year it rose to 7,266 calls – a 37 per cent increase.

An Essex Police spokesman said despite the rise in calls, crime was falling at a time when the force is trying to find £42million in budget savings.

He said while there had been a greater number of calls requiring an emergency response, these did not always lead to a crime being recorded.

For example, a road traffic collision may require a response, but can often turn out to be an accident.

 Mick Thwaites, an independent candidate for the police and crime commissioner role, said the likely cause of the waits was the recent loss of 20 members of staff from the force information room along with hundreds of officers and PCSOs.

He said: “Police have to respond when the public calls in a timely fashion. If they do not, the public will lose confidence.

“I believe the austerity cuts are starting to hurt. We are starting to see the impact on Essex Police’s performance.”

The police spokesman said the force was determined to get to calls quicker He said: “We are maximising the number of officers available to investigate crime, police the streets and respond to emergency incidents.

“We have introduced a new model of borderless policing, supported by new resource tracking software.

“We are installing mobile data terminals in our police vehicles, which allow officers to stay out on patrol for longer.

“These developments, among others, provide control room operators with fast time information to locate and deploy police officers and PCSOs as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

Bernard Jenkin, MP for Harwich and North Essex, suggested the non-emergency 101 number should be publicised.

He said: “I expect there are quite a lot of times people are calling 999 when they don’t need to. It would also help if Essex citizens stopped inventing incidents.”