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Licensing: Aiming for change

Firearm and shotgun certificates are a common thread of readers? correspondence. Some readers get excellent service, some do not. It is therefore welcome that a conference titled Best Practice in Licensing Firearms for Live Quarry Shooting, intended to help iron out problems, was recently held at the JCB world headquarters near Uttoxeter, Staffordshire. The conference was organised by the National Gamekeepers Organisation (NGO) and run under the auspices of Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO). There were representatives from police forces across the UK, the Home Office, and the major shooting organisations, including the full British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) firearms team.

The keynote speech ? ?A Fair, Effective and Efficient System: where we need to be? ? was made by Chief Constable Andy Marsh from Hampshire, who is chairman of the ACPO Firearms and Explosives Licensing Working Group (FELWG). When Andy Marsh took on the job in early 2011, he soon discovered it was an annus horribilis for licensing with more than 13,000 certificates not renewed on time. Something needed to be done and he?s set about it with vigour.

Police initiatives

His drive to simplify conditions by using the ?any other lawful quarry? condition for live quarry shooting and eliminating the mentoring condition is most welcome. Andy was able to announce several other important initiatives. There is to be a scoping exercise with a view to a thematic inspection of the licensing process by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC).

The Home Office is rolling out a new edition of Guidance to the Police, with 15 chapters now available online. Alongside this, Andy Marsh announced that there is to be an Accredited Professional Practice guide which will be produced by the College of Policing in 2014 and will complement the Home Office Guidance.

So far, so good. Better still, there will be a close look at training. Currently, there is one course per year in Dorset for firearms enquiry officers (FEOs). Andy is encouraging more forces to send FEOs for training and is investigating training for other members of licensing teams.

Andy also expressed his regret that the Home Office has recently deferred the fee increase. Fees were last changed in 2001 and many feel an increase is long overdue.

A cornerstone of the planned improvements is eCommerce, and Matthew Bennion-Pedley of Wiltshire police explained the benefits and the timetable. With a roll out in 2014, it will revolutionise the application process.

NGO?s George Wallace was an early speaker, doing an entertaining double act with BASC?s Mike Eveleigh. Their theme was improving on the problems of the past. Then it was my turn, interviewing a panel consisting of Sheila Alexander from the Home Office, Mark Groothuis of ACPO and Bill Harriman of BASC.

In the afternoon, Chief Inspector Andy Hughes of West Mercia police explained how his force has eliminated waiting lists by a risk-assessed approach and streamlining procedures. Dr John Canning of the British Medical Association (BMA) Fees Committee suggested that GPs should be involved at an early stage in the licensing process ? for a fee. Danny Bothwick of Dorset police spoke about the course his force runs for FEOs. Dave Coutts from North Yorkshire police and Chief Inspector Steve Ball of Durham police spoke about how their forces manage the licensing process. Finally, Ralph Barker from Cambridge police looked at how certificate holders can help police.

The post-conference feedback has been positive and Andy Marsh and the NGO are to be congratulated on running such a valuable day.

The conference was sponsored by JCB ? one of NGO?s main sponsors ? Blaser Sporting UK and Edgar Brothers.