26 September 2023
I write further to our discussion on the Firearms Licensing Unit (FLU) at last week’s West Mercia Governance Board (WMGB).
Having reflected I feel it is appropriate and necessary to formally set out my significant concerns around some elements of performance within the FLU and seek your reassurance that these concerns will be urgently addressed.
As I stated at WMGB public safety is my top priority, but with the additional resources I have made available to enact the operational activity you recommended, the public are entitled to expect an improvement in service without compromising safety. I felt at times that the discussion focused more on describing the problem, with insufficient emphasis on a clear route map towards sustained performance improvement, in line with the intent set out in my decision earlier this year to invest additional resources in the FLU.
As Commissioner I have received sustained and significant concerns from members of the community expressing their concern and frustration on this topic. I have continued to raise these concerns on behalf of the public with West Mercia Police and have been clear in my appetite to see reduced backlogs and faster processing of cases. The nature and frequency of correspondence from residents, business owners, MPs and councillors demonstrates that the safe use of firearms by responsible owners remains a key element of both community life and the local economy in West Mercia. It is vitally important to them that the service level provided by the FLU reflects that.
I am aware of the context to this matter in respect of West Mercia being the area with the highest volume of firearms licences in the country and the additional workload now associated with firearms licensing. I recognise the significant level of demand this places on the FLU. That is why I made £200,000 of additional resource available and indicated my support for further investment if it is required.
My initial investment decision in March 2023 was taken in full consultation with the Force with a view to improving performance and better meeting community needs. At the time, the average wait for the issue of a firearms licence and shotgun licence were 230 days and 251 days respectively. Renewals of firearms licences and shotgun licences were 86 days and 66 days respectively. The intent of that additional investment was that the current backlog would reduce by 30% – 50% within 2023/24, and the average wait time for applications should reduce to 150 days as a maximum.
I am concerned that based on subsequent updates at WMGB overall performance against these key outcomes continues to deteriorate rather than improve. This includes a 24% increase in the backlog of shotgun renewal applications since May this year (now standing at over 600), as part of an 8% overall increase in backlogged demand in the same period. If current trajectories are maintained, we will be approaching a full year for people to receive the service they need and rightly expect.
I recognise that significant additional workload requirements for the FLU have landed since January, but I have equally been clear and consistent in my expectation that the Force operates a service that is timely as well as safe. The intent of March’s decision notice has not changed, and I am concerned that delivery of those promised improvements is at risk.
The public have a reasonable expectation that their Police and Crime Commissioner can commission an efficient and effective service from West Mercia Police (WMP), with service standards that they would support. We do not seem to have yet achieved that with the current performance of the FLU.
I would ask that an updated paper is brought to WMGB in October setting out the force’s actions that are being taken to address the concerns I have outlined and reassurance that the performance improvements within FLU will be delivered within the agreed time frames.
West Mercia Police and Crime Commissioner