“To put this in perspective, we missed the target by, on average, only 12 seconds,” an ambulance spokesman said.

The majority of the fine – £1.8 million – is being reinvested back into the service to improve ambulance response times.

The remaining £800,000 was taken from reserves, and the ambulance service said “there was no impact on patients”.

WMAS said there had been unprecedented demand on the service last year.

Speaking in April at the end of the financial year, Chief Executive Anthony Marsh, said: “We take far more calls than you might think; almost 3,000 ‘999’ calls come in every single day. It’s a figure that has been increasing by on average 5 per cent every single year. 

“What’s more, despite being an ‘emergency service’, the majority of them are not life-threatening. Because our call numbers have effectively doubled in recent years, particularly the non-life threatening ones, we have had to become far more than a traditional ‘scoop and run’ service taking all of our patients to hospital.

“As an organisation we have undergone a massive change so that we can provide ever higher standards of clinical care with more complex treatments whilst continuing to keep up with the ever increasing demand.”

Union bosses have hit out at the fine. Ray Salmon, Regional Organiser for Britain’s public service union, UNISON, said: “The decision to fine West Midlands Ambulance Service £2.6m is not only a kick in the teeth for its hardworking staff it is counterproductive.   

“The ambulance service has been put under enormous pressure by higher volume usage because of continuing cuts to other health services.  It is this which has resulted in the service just fractionally missing its target. 

“Any withholding of any funds, let alone a £800,000 cut, is destined to put even more pressure on the service.” 

The fine was imposed by the Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG) who control NHS budgets.

A spokesperson for Sandwell and West Birmingham CCG said: “The vast majority of this withheld money is to be reinvested in the health system to ease the pressure and help improve performance.

“The latest performance figures are extremely positive, with all ambulance operational quality standards being met in April.”