DORSET’S Police and Crime Commissioner has criticised the Prime Minister for refusing a rise in the cost of gun licences.
He said: “I have written to the Prime Minister to express my disbelief at his decision to reverse an agreed rise to the licence fee charged to those owning a shotgun or firearm.
“The negotiations to raise the licence fee took over two years and was agreed between all relevant stakeholders. These stakeholders included the industry itself, the Treasury, Home Office, the Regulatory Policy Committee and Government Ministers.
“David Cameron needs to justify his stand-alone decision and reassure the cynics amongst us that this isn’t about his personal hobby, the party faithful and extreme lobbying. Instead he needs to explain that his intervention has sound and transparent reasoning.
“I say this because, in these times of austerity, the tax payer should not be expected to subsidise administration costs for individuals who own firearms. This amounts to approximately £20 million a year nationally.
“The financial imbalance is just wrong, particularly during times when we have to make difficult decisions on the future of policing.
“The time for change, the time for a raise, is long overdue.”
Mr Underhill claims that just £50 allows someone to apply for a five year gun licence and only £40 for a subsequent five year renewal.
To put this into perspective, the government also sets a licence fee of £72 per year to fish for salmon or sea trout, equating to £360 for a five year period. The gun licence charges have not seen a rise since 2001.
He added: “In Dorset we have one of the largest shooting populations in the country, pro rata, with over 14,000 licence holders across the county. Dorset Police subsidises the licence administration by around £250,000 per year.”
Dorset Police have estimated the cost of granting a firearms licence to be £218. The £50 charge doesn’t cover the administration costs, let alone pay for an officer to visit the applicant to check their suitability to have a gun.
Mr Underhill added: “This leaves a gap of £168 which has to come from the tax payer – effectively removing 10 police officers from our streets to fund a leisure time hobby. I know many Dorset residents will find this a bitter pill to swallow.
“The licencing of firearms is something taken very seriously and is the main reason why the cost of issuing them is so high”
Local and national background checks must be completed on the applicant together with a face-to-face visit to ensure they are suitable. The training to enable these assessments to be made takes at least two years to understand the legislation and to make the right decision. After all, there’s nothing more risky than deciding if a member of the public can have a gun.
“As Police and Crime Commissioner for Dorset, I urge Mr Cameron to review his decision and if he won’t do so, to at least explain why he has intervened.
“This isn’t about income generation, or making money. It’s about cost recovery, enabling rural police forces like Dorset in continuing to deliver efficient and effective policing services without forcing them to use public funds to support the leisure activities of a few.”