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In an interview with TalkTV, Labour Shadow Women and Equalities minister Annelise Dodds said that she wants those who own firearms to subsidise the policing of knife crime. She suggested that the fact that gun licensing is not run with a full cost recovery mechanism is “wrong”, a sentiment the Countryside Alliance considers to be overly simplistic and unfair.
Gun ownership (and therefore licensing) plays an important role in rural life and the rural economy, which a full cost recovery mechanism would threaten. People hold guns for a variety of reasons, whether it is for their work, for livestock or crop protection, for wildlife conservation, or simply for putting wild meat on the table. This raises the question, why should it fall to firearms holders to cover a shortfall in police funding from the Home Office? It is not our suggestion that the firearms licence fee remains frozen, however. It was last set in 2015, and as we all know, a huge amount has changed in the world since then, and it is fair that fees increase in line with inflation. But again, things aren’t as simple as that.
At present, the fees for the grant, renewal, or variation of firearms licences and shotgun certificates are set centrally. There are additional costs like the fee which a GP surgery charges for medical certification, which are not set centrally and can vary wildly, often being higher than the current cost of a licence. These additional costs are frequently disregarded by those who seek to bring about full cost recovery of licence fees. With a full cost recovery system and an increase in ancillary licensing costs, owning a firearm could well be put out of financial reach of many rural people, which in turn would harm the rural economy, rural communities and wildlife conservation efforts. This is a matter which rural voters will take seriously when visiting a polling station come election time.
If a full cost recovery is put forward by the current or any future government, then an improvement in service must come with it. At present many police forces have waiting times for new licence grants which stretch from months to years; if full cost recovery is brought in, so must guarantees of quality of service. Another obstacle to full cost recovery would be calculation of the fee. Some police forces measure their full cost as less than the current fee, while others are many multiples of that. In 2022, it was reported that the full cost for Durham Constabulary was over £500 per licence, yet in Humberside it was just over £40. Any full cost recovery fee greater than the average cost across all police forces (with extremes excluded) would be condoning inefficiency and poor practice by Police forces.
The Alliance is engaging with policy makers, firearms licensing teams and others, to help bring about a workable system to the firearms licensing system. Police forces and politicians need to listen to rural voices, and deliver fair policy and good service to a currently faltering system in the very near future.