§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Ivor Caplin)
During defence questions on 19 July 2004, I gave an undertaking to the House to 163WS make a statement about progress made during the summer in the issuing of the Canal zone medal to Suez veterans.
As at the week ending 10 September 2004, 41,314 applications had been received and acknowledged, and 14,761 medals dispatched. The Royal Navy is now assessing applications as they are received (5 February 2004 as at 19 July 2004), the Royal Air Force is assessing applications received on 30 December 2003 (26 November as at 19 July), and although the army medal office is still assessing applications from 31 October 2003, this is due to some 4,300 applications being received during that week. This peak in applications, which occurred following my statement to the House on 23 October, is nearly cleared and the assessment of applications received during November will begin very shortly.
While this significant army backlog remains, a number of measures implemented by the joint personnel administration team responsible for setting up the MOD medal office at RAF Innsworth are already bringing tangible benefits. A new medal laser engraving facility has recently been installed at Innsworth. This is currently being used solely to engrave Iraq medals and over 6,000 have been produced during its first four weeks of operation. This has allowed the engraving facility at the army medal office to concentrate its efforts on the Suez Canal zone medal and as a result, the engraving backlog of some 1,800 medals has been cleared during the last month. Improvements to the information systems used by the army medal office, the facility to work overtime and the diversion of staff to Suez Canal zone medal processing are helping to improve matters further. These measures, coupled with the concerted efforts of army medal office staff have brought about an increase of approximately 30 per cent. in the army assessment rate during recent weeks.
This increase in output has resulted in an average of some one hundred and twenty more applications per week being assessed since July.
I can also announce that with effect from 1 October 2004 the armed forces personnel administration agency will assume full responsibility for the management of medal output, target setting and performance monitoring. This will allow many of the benefits of a single MOD medal office, such as common procedures based on single Service best practice, to be introduced prior to its actual formation date next spring.
Following these initial changes, I now anticipate that the backlog should be cleared by January 2006 and I hope this can continue to be improved upon. I should like to pay tribute to the staff of the single service medal offices for their part in bringing about this improvement.