Average waiting times for 101 calls to Thames Valley Police (TVP) have gone up by more than 400% in the last year.

A freedom of information (FOI) request by Peter Bowyer, Oxford Road Safer Neighbourhood Forum chairman, discovered the startling figures.

Local community leaders are seriously concerned over the ability of the public to report crime.

Mr Bowyer said: “The whole system is breaking down. It has become very difficult to report things on 101. I think it is demand for 999 that is causing it.

“Our local police have provided us with an email address but that is not a solution. That is a sticking plaster.

“The real solution is for 101 to work again; it has fallen off the radar. Police are no longer seeing evidence of what is going on in streets because nobody is reporting incidents.”

Waiting times for 101 calls have surged from around one and a half minutes in October 2017 to more than seven minutes in September 2018; a 477 per cent rise.

The most significant rise has happened in the last three months, while average calls have gone down in the last two months.

Councillor Karen Rowland said: “I would like TVP to admit they have a funding problem.

“There have been hints dropped that they are having problems meeting demand because of budget issues. This is the effect of austerity.”

Mr Bowyer added: “If the people at the top of TVP are not recognising it, it is not going to change.

“It is their responsibility to keep the community safe and they are not doing that.”

Cllr Rowland will be raising the issue at the policy committee tonight at Reading Borough Council (RBC), where Francis Habgood, TVP chief constable, will deliver his annual report.

The Abbey ward councillor will ask how the ability of residents to effectively report is being addressed.

She said: “The reporting mechanism is getting very difficult to use.

“The last two times I called it has been over 34 minutes. I have got messages from people that have tried for two hours.

“Police have suggested people report online but that method leads you down rabbit holes.

“I have never made it to the end when trying to report drug dealing issues online.

“My biggest concern is a lack of reporting. A year from now it will be look like the drug problem has been solved.”

Reading has the fourth highest number of heroin and morphine-related deaths per 100,000 people, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Cllr Rowland added: “These numbers help the police to know where to mobilise forces.

“Our numbers have dropped off dramatically, but our drug dealers are bolder and cheekier than ever.”

In January 2018, TVP said it was short of 98 officers with a net loss of 26 a month.

Clive Benson, secretary of Thames Valley Police Federation, said: “The problem is demand has gone through the roof and we have not got the numbers to deal with it.

“Contact management is an area we are all really trying to improve."

The number of police officers in England and Wales fell by over 20,000 between March 2010 and March 2018, according to Home Office statistics.

Chief superintendent Christian Bunt, head of contact management for TVP, said: “We are aware that members of the public may have experienced longer than usual delays getting through on the non-emergency 101 number.

“However, I am sure the public would appreciate that we have to prioritise emergency calls.

“By calling us for non-police matters such as abandoned vehicles and noise complaints, people are further reducing our ability to answer calls that do require a police response.”