A request has been received from West Mercia Police, seeking approval for additional capital funding to purchase 10 vehicles for the Firearms Licensing Unit (FLU). The vehicles are to support Firearms enquiry officers (FEOs) to undertake home visits, as required by statutory guidance, before issuing a firearms certificate. There is also a requirement to visit Registered Firearms Dealers (RFD) at their place(s) of business.
Currently there is a reliance on 2 Hire Vehicles to complete this work, with 3 additional FEO posts being created and an outline proposal for 5 additional FEOs in 2024, there is an identified requirement from the Force for 10 vehicles.
This proposal supports wider, related work to tackle significant backlogs of demand within the FLU and enable a level of capacity that supports a service which is safe and timely for the public.
The Commissioner is recommended to approve;
o The purchase of 10 suitable vehicles, to enable FEOs to undertake home and workplace visits as required as part of their work to issue firearms certificate
o The use of up to 260,000 of capital to purchase the vehicles, 5 to be purchased immediately (£130,000) and an additional 5 subject to approval of revenue budget in 2024/25 for a further 5 FEOs
I hereby approval the above proposal.
Signed: West Mercia Police and Crime Commissioner
Part 1 – Non confidential/exempt facts and figures
The PCC is committed to reducing backlogs within West Mercia’s FLU and ensuring a more timely service for local communities who rely on the service, many of whom have contacted the Commissioner to raise concerns about the length of time it has taken to issue licences.
West Mercia has the highest volume of firearms licences in England and Wales. Each licence requires a significant amount of work to check and verify prior to issue, with the processes involved increasing dramatically.
FLU staff continue to work hard to meet demand as well as possible, however the PCC has repeatedly raised concerns with the Chief Constable that capacity and resource within the Unit is not sufficient as backlogs have continued to increase to unacceptable levels.
The PCC has previously committed an additional £200,000 of resource to increase capacity due to the length of time it takes for licences to be granted or renewed (PCC/D/2023/06 refers). West Mercia Police has now submitted a request for additional capital funding to purchase 10 vehicles for the FLU, as part of the approach to increase resourcing and reduce backlogs.
The vehicles are to support FEOs to undertake home visits, as required by statutory guidance, before issuing a firearms certificate. There is also a requirement to visit RFDs at their place(s) of business.
Before issuing a Firearms certificate, there are some requirements for a visit to be undertaken as part of the assessment to ensure that it is safe to issue a licence for shotguns, firearms and explosives. There are over 12,000 transactions that are received annually relating to Firearms licencing. The requirements for visits are
• Home Office Statutory Guidance (Feb 23) states that, “A home visit must always be carried out before granting a certificate to a first-time applicant.”. There are approximately 1000 of these per year in West Mercia
• For West Mercia the current guidelines are that 30% of renewals require a home visit. There are approximately 7000 renewals per year.
• Registered Firearms Dealers (RFD), “applicants should also be subject to an interview and inspection of their place or places of business and any place where firearms are kept. An inspection should take place at both grant and renewal, regardless of the level of risk assessment.”
The FLU currently also has a backlog of both renewals and grants. The Force has approval for an increase in staff across the department to manage both the annual cycle of work and to reduce the backlog. Visits relating to this activity are carried out by an FEO’s as part of their core duty. There is a limit on how many visits per day can be undertaken dependent on the application type, geographic location and complexity, with new FEOs estimated to be able to complete one visit per day when first completing their training and going out on solo visits.
To complete the work the FEOs require a suitable vehicle, which would include access to rural properties, often involving farm tracks and unsurfaced roads in all weather conditions throughout the year. The vehicles must be able to carry a 120cm long gun secured in a safe in the boot. The Force recommendations that an unmarked 2-3 year old low mileage small SUV 4×4 as the most appropriate vehicle for this work (similar to a Ford Kuga / Kia Sportage). These retail at circa £25,000, but every effort will be made to purchase qualifying cars to reduce cost.
As these are to be unmarked, they will require limited commissioning which will include standard forward facing dash cams along with standard telematics, costing in the region of £500. Gun safes will be approximately £500 each fitted. For 5 vehicles the annual revenue cost is estimated as up to £36,000.00 (to cover MRP, borrowing and maintenance)
Electric vehicles have been considered but due to the fact these vehicles will be spread across the force where there is limited infrastructure for charging and used in rural locations this is not an option at the present time.
Currently 2 of West Mercia’s FEO’s have hire cars at a costs of £15 per day, which is equivalent to £27,375 per year for 5 vehicles. The available vehicles for hire are not considered fit for purpose. This arrangement also does not consider the additional financial liability from the hire company if the vehicle is damaged driving, a risk which is heightened in many of West Mercia’s rural areas.
The use of FEOs’ personal vehicles for the visits would require payment of both essential user of £1200 per person and also a mileage rate of 45p per mile travelled. A low estimate at 50 miles per day over 200 working days would be an annual revenue cost of £28,500 for 5 vehicles. There is additional issue relating to whether the vehicle is suitable for such work and whether staff would be prepared to use their own vehicle.
The recommendation is that due to visits being fundamental and mandated to ensure the safe licensing of shotguns, firearms and explosives it is appropriate to provide force vehicles in order that FEO’s can carry out their role. There is no option of sharing vehicles as they are expected to be out of the office on enquiries for most of their tour of duty. The vehicles are at stations around the force near to where they are used so there is no pool of vehicles. Through having these vehicles there is also the additional resilience benefit which will be offered across the force through being available to patrol or operations if required – e.g., bad weather, snow, floods etc. They may also be utilised at the weekend.
Purchase also provides an asset for commercial disposal for the PCC when the vehicles reach the end of their useful life within the FLU.
This decision supports the following element(s) of the Safer West Mercia Plan:
- Building a More Secure West Mercia
- Reforming West Mercia
- Reassuring West Mercia’s Communities
The decision supports this/ these objective(s) through the following:
Firearms Licensing is a mandatory function of the police, but also fits into keeping communities safe. These vehicles are required to ensure the FLU can operate an effective service. This supports the Safer West Mercia Plan to
• Enabling an improved service and access for the public
• Maintaining core focus on public safety
It also enables best value in its transport fleet, maximising the use of the fleet for the benefit of the community
Benefits and their realisation
Benefits from extra vehicles will allow the number of long-term hires to be reduced. It will also allow the new starters to be able to carry out their role. This is fundamental to the effectiveness of the FLU and starting to reduce the backlog of renewals but especially grants as each one of these requires a visit.
Risks of not having enough appropriate vehicles are that staff will not be able to carry out their core functions and the backlog of tasks in FLU will increase.
Financial and treasurer comments
There is currently no capital allocation to support this request and so would increase the capital programme. This would increase the capital borrowing required. The annual revenue cost resulting from the purchase of 5 vehicles is estimated £36,000 per annum.
Whilst hiring a vehicle or staff using their own vehicle may be a lower annual revenue cost, the recommendation is that due to those vehicles likely to be
unsuitable for the work required and either the hire company then restricting hire use, or staff not willing to use personal vehicles that Force Vehicles should be provided.
The recommendation is that due to the low number of visits that can be completed per day that 5 officers and vehicles are what is required to deliver the required annual service, and to reduce the backlog.
By virtue of schedule 11, paragraph 14 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 the Police and Crime Commissioner may do anything which is calculated to facilitate, or is conducive or incidental to, the exercise of the functions of commissioner. That includes: entering into contracts and other agreements (whether legally binding or not) and acquiring and disposing of property (including land).
Public access to information
Information in this form is subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOI Act) and other legislation. Part 1 of this form will be made available on the West Mercia Commissioner’s website. Any facts and advice that should not be made automatically available on request are not included in Part 1 but instead in a separate Part 2 report.
Signed: Chief Executive Officer