Martyn Underhill, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Dorset, has revealed in an astonishing rant that his force is unable to stick to the nationally agreed level of costs for issuing firearm certificates.
In an open letter published on his official PCC website, Underhill – a former police employee – makes repeated claims that firearms licensing “costs” Dorset Police £250,000 a year, adding that his force spends £218 to issue a single firearm certificate (FAC).
A recent review of firearms licensing conducted by the Home Office, at the request of Britain’s police forces and with input from shooting representative bodies, concluded that an FAC costs no more than £88 to issue. As a direct result of the review the outgoing coalition government in March set the national fee for issuing an FAC at £88, on a full cost recovery basis.
Railing against Prime Minister David Cameron, the Dorset PCC wrote: “Whilst the new higher charge still doesn’t cover the full costs for issuing a license, it is certainly a step in the right direction. We need a sustainable process where the fees charged represent the cost of issue. I will continue to campaign and lobby government to stop this absured [sic] public funded subsidy towards firearms license holders.”
Underhill’s letter deliberately fails to mention that the Home Office review explicitly set the new fees on a full cost recovery basis, as Lynne Featherstone, then minister for firearms issues, stated in a government press release announcing the move.
The review into firearms licensing fees and costs was triggered when the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) was caught in the early stages of a media campaign to hike firearms licensing fees to a profit-making level, falsely telling the public that FACs cost £200 to issue. Challenged by the Home Office to show their working, ACPO was brought to heel and forced to agree that the £200 figure had no basis in fact.
Perhaps anticipating that the true motive for his outburst – money – would be spotted by hard-pressed Dorset taxpayers, Underhill added an unconvincing disclaimer: “This isn’t about generating money to bridge our funding gap.”
Underhill must explain to Dorset taxpayers why the police force he is personally responsible for spends more than double the nationally-agreed amount on issuing FACs. He must also state how he will tighten the force’s belt so it lives within its means, rather than wasting his time ranting about matters decided at central government level.