With recent research revealing that some Countryside Alliance members have waited over a year before having their shotgun and/or firearm licence renewed, an update on progress was felt necessary. Following a stakeholder’s meeting we highlight all attempts by Essex Police to improve their licensing service.
The Essex Police Firearms Licensing Department has struggled significantly over the last five years with exceedingly long turnaround times for renewals and applications for both shotgun and firearm certificates. Two separate Freedom of Information (FOI) requests by the Countryside Alliance have shown Essex as one of the poorest performing licensing departments in the country. The last five years have seen Essex Police fail to deal with large volumes of renewals and applications within acceptable time frames resulting in unprecedented back-logs, underperforming services and as highlighted in the HMIC report, titled ‘Targeting the risk’, leaving certificate holders in potentially illegal situations.
Through publication of the Countryside Alliance FOI requests and subsequent media activity, as well as articles in shooting magazines, the shooting community is well aware of this issue, and therefore under-performing forces are aware that their services need to improve.
Over the last year Essex Police have increased their staff by 5, meaning that there are now 15 office staff and 9 FEOs, and they have focused on improved staff training procedures and administrative practices. We welcome this boost in targeted resourcing, and we also welcome the fact that over 90% of certificate renewals are now completed prior to expiry. Even so, the Countryside Alliance remains disappointed at the unambitious target of 12 months that Essex Firearms Licensing has set itself for the elimination of its backlog of grant applications, and we would like to see clear targets for the bringing of grants and renewals into line with nationally acceptable turnaround times of 12 weeks and 8 weeks respectively. Moreover, once these targets have been achieved, service levels need to be maintained into the future.
Short term improvements to services have seen Essex Police focus on the renewals of licences over grants to first time applicants. Focusing on the renewals allows those that have been previously granted a certificate the ability to get back out into the field and continue with their shooting, whether they be game or target shooters, or professional users such as farmers, gamekeepers or pest controllers. This is, however, severely impacting those that wish to take up shooting and are in the process of applying for a licence for the first time. This is specifically relevant given the high level of shotgun certificate new grant applications in Essex, especially by newcomers to clay shooting.
A second temporary short term change to the department’s service has seen Essex Police stop issuing Section 7 Temporary Permits unless absolutely necessary. Instead, if there is no change in the applicant’s address and medical status, they will renew the certificate on a risk-assessed basis, leaving enquiries to a later date. This new system has helped them in the first four months of 2017. A total of 92.40% of firearms certificates and 93.14% of shotgun certificates were reissued prior to expiry between 01/01/17 and 30/04/17, as against 33.09% and 39.19% respectively in the same period last year.
The Countryside Alliance has offered up training services to the Essex Police and will continue to monitor progress and keep communication channels open throughout this year as they attempt to improve their service, and support the shooting industry by helping both newcomers and experienced shots receive a swift and comprehensive service.