Opinion Former Article

BASC responds to NI firearms report

BASC broadly supports the findings of a report into firearms licensing in Northern Ireland published today by the Comptroller and Auditor General.  However, BASC is disappointed the report is not as comprehensive as expected.

BASC had three meetings with the Auditor General’s team over the past nine months and there has been a significant reduction in processing times for firearms licensing applications thanks to their input. The report is a result of those meetings which were arranged following complaints from BASC members and trade members.

The report (https://www.niauditoffice.gov.uk/sites/niao/files/media-files/Final%20firearms%20licensing%20report.pdf) focuses on four areas:

• The time taken to process applications.
• The adequacy of performance reporting in Firearms and Explosives Branch (FEB).
• Dual online and paper licensing systems.
• The recovery of full costs.

In relation to the recovery of costs by Police Service Northern Ireland (PSNI), BASC notes the report’s reference to the document Managing Public Money in Northern Ireland (MPM NI) and the recommendation that PSNI should establish a plan to move towards full-cost recovery for firearms licensing in the longer term.

However, BASC is disappointed that the report does not make reference to the fact that Managing Public Money in NI also sets the standards that a public service must meet. These include, accountability, openness, fairness, objectivity, transparency and, most importantly, value for money.

BASC NI director Tommy Mayne said: “BASC welcomes the fact that the report recognises issues raised by BASC around licensing delays. These continue to be a serious problem for firearms dealers and individual members.

“As far as the reports recommendation on full cost recovery is concerned, the fee for the grant or renewal of a firearm certificate increased from £50 to £98 in May 2016. Prior to that increase, multiple sets of figures in relation to the costs of firearms licensing system were produced, none of which stood up to scrutiny.

“Subsequently, BASC, the PSNI, the Department of Justice and a number of other stakeholders agreed the current fee of £98.

“Amongst other things, that agreement was based on assurances given by PSNI to the NI Assembly’s Committee for Justice, BASC and other key stakeholders, regarding the publication of turnaround times and greater accountability.

“Clearly, that has not happened and BASC will rigorously oppose any increase in fees until PSNI deliver on their assurances. Firearms licensing is undertaken for the public good and safety and, as such, the public purse should bear a proportion of the cost.

“In addition, BASC feels strongly that any discussion on fees must take account of PSNI’s reduced workload, as a result of the introduction of the online system. BASC is currently legally challenging the PSNI’s decision to impose online-only licensing from July this year.”

Patsy McGlone MLA, chairman of the NI Assembly’s All Party Group on Country Sports, said:  “I welcome the report’s acknowledgement that a failure to produce reliable performance information is limiting useful analysis of online licensing.

“I also welcome the report’s recommendation that a thorough overhaul of the information being reported should be undertaken to assure stakeholders and the wider public that the system operates effectively.

“I find it incredulous that PSNI is unable to count the number of outstanding paper applications and that applications waited for more than two months before being processed. The service delivered to the shooting community continues to be below the standard we would expect and it has probably been like that for more than a decade. We need to see tangible improvements and an efficient method for recording performance.” 

BASC thanks NI Auditor General, Mr Kieran Donnelly and his staff at the NI Audit Office for their efforts in producing the report.  BASC also thanks Patsy McGlone MLA for facilitating our meetings with the Audit Office and for his continued efforts to ensure that PSNI are accountable and that the firearms licensing system provides a value for money service.

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