Essex Police have claimed statistics showing they did not respond to one in five emergency calls in time do not reflect the force's level of performance.

Statistics showed the force reached 81.7 per cent of calls in time between January and March, less than the target of 90 per cent.

But an Essex Police spokesman has disputed the figures, and said the force had been working through a period of "significant change".

The spokesman said: "Essex Police will always strive to deliver the best possible policing service during a period of unprecedented change, and faced with the requirement to make recurring revenue savings of more than £42 million by 2014/15.

"This claim is incorrect and does not accurately represent the force’s current level of performance.

"When all emergency incidents are considered, the force’s performance for August 2012 shows that officers are attending 86 percent of all emergency calls within the target time.

"Through our recent restructuring programme and new shift patterns, Essex Police is maximising the number of officers available to investigate crime, police the streets and respond to emergency incidents.

"In the year’s first quarter, the number of emergency response calls attended within the target time was 81.7%. This relates to the first few months of 2012, when Essex Police was working through a period of significant change.

"Since that time, with the new working arrangements settling in, there has been a continuous improvement in the force’s performance in responding to emergency incidents."

The spokesman also pointed to the fact police were attending more incidents than previously.

He said: "In the most recent quarter, officers attended 2,017 more emergency responses and 757 more priority incidents as compared with the same period last year.

"Essex Police constantly monitors and reviews our performance in attending emergency response calls, and remains committed to providing the best possible service to our communities."