Questions have arisen as to whether police forces have implemented recommendations in the 2015 HMIC report

Police firearms licensing departments have faced renewed criticism, five months after Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary report was released.

Kent Police, in particular, has come under severe criticism from BASC, which said that Police and Crime Commissioner Ann Barnes did not understand the role the police play in firearms licensing and was providing an inefficient service.

Ms Barnes said that Kent Police was operating at a £300,000 deficit due to the cost of firearms licensing.

Inefficiency in firearms licensing

Gary Ashton, BASC’s director of firearms operations, said: “As the Police and Crime Commissioner, Ms Barnes is charged with securing the maintenance of an efficient and effective police force for Kent. Inefficiency in firearms licensing, worse than the national average, is her responsibility and the buck stops with her. Seeking to blame firearms owners to cover up failures is an evasion of Ms Barnes’ responsibilities.”

Ms Barnes wrote in her blog earlier this month that: “There are more than 70,000 licensed guns in Kent. This includes 50, 971shotguns and 20,905 other firearms.”

She commented: “Having these guns kept here in Kent does pose a real public safety risk, so it’s entirely right that they are properly accounted for, licensed to sensible people and locked away when not in use — it’s a matter of public safety. What concerns me is the fact Kent Police is having to spend more than £300,000 subsidising the licensing of them.

“What I take issue with is Kent Police money — taxpayers’ money – being used to subsidise someone’s hobby. No-one subsidises a gym membership, a fishing licence or a season ticket to watch the Gills.”

BASC responded: “Kent is proportionately one of the worst-performing licensing teams according to BASC figures.

“When fees were set, they were based on figures supplied by the police for the average cost of firearms licensing. If the amounts paid to Kent Police fall far short of the costs they incur providing licensing, then it shows that their processes are inefficient compared to police performance nationally.”

The report, Targeting the risk, was published in September and found that the public was being put at risk by “inconsistent and inadequate” firearms licensing service, from the length of time taken by forces to grant a certificate to how often they visit applicants. The report made a number of recommendations regarding more effective monitoring and auditing, with some targets to be met within three-to-six-months.

In January, Shooting Times writer David Frost lodged a Freedom of Information request to ascertain how much progress had been made in meeting these recommendations. At the time of publication, Cumbria, Dorset, Lincolnshire, Staffordshire, Metropolitan and Greater Manchester police forces had yet to reply. South Wales questioned whether disclosure would be in the public interest. David noted: “Usually failure to reply to an FOI request is indicative of having something to hide.” (Look out for David’s full article in a forthcoming issue of Shooting Times ).