When the first national emergency number was introduced to the UK, we chose 999. I have absolutely no idea why as it was pretty much the slowest number to dial. Yes, dial. This was back in the days before push button technology and you had to dial a number by shoving your finger into a rotating disc with ten holes and then whizzing it around clockwise. All of which means that it took longer to dial 999 than, say 111. The Americas plumped for the altogether more sensible 911 and Europe went one better with 112. But heigh ho, I'm sure there was a good reason.
Now, there was a project set up by the Home Office to introduce a national non-emergency number to run parallel with the 999 system, using the number 101. Very clever I thought. Memorable. Easy. It's a winner. But then we suffered what the Jargonese people call 'mission drift'. All of a sudden, it's no longer a national project; it's local. In their own words:
'The government has not dropped 101, but is no longer offering grants to local operations. However, the 101 telephony infrastructure is available for local areas to use. Further, the Home Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG) recognise the benefits of single access locally and are supportive of local areas implementing the service.'*
So now it's a case of various councils, police authorities etc. investing in their own system with 101 being pushed as the best and most easy to use option. So why has the Met introduced 0300 123 1212? I mean ... how easy is that to remember? I like the '1212' bit as that smacks of the old days when Scotland Yard's phone number really was Whitehall 1212. So why not just have 1212? Why all this 0300 business? It reminded me of this wonderful spoof advert that appeared in the UK sitcom The IT Crowd:
0118 999 881 999 119 725 3. So catchy.
To make matters even worse, this new number costs money to dial. Yes, it's only a local call tariff but it's still money that some people - particularly younger people - can't always afford to spend on their pay-as-you-go mobiles. 999 is still easier to remember ... and free.
We'll see just how well it works.
*from the Home Office Crime Reduction site. The full report on the 101 Project is here if you're dull like me and read such things.