Only last month Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary set out some of the long term pressures facing the Met, stating:
“Although the force is looking ahead through financial forecasting, it has yet to develop detailed plans on how it will meet these future saving requirements.
“At present, 57 percent of the force’s operating costs are spent on police officer pay, which is a fixed cost to meet the mayoral commitment to retain 31,957 officers. The number of police officers needed to police London beyond 2016 will almost certainly need to be reviewed to meet future savings challenges.” (page 10)
2016 is not far away and it is time that every pound spent by the Met was carefully examined. Whether it is chauffeur driven cars for senior police officers or poor procurement policies, everything needs to be scrutinised if police resources are to go further and we are to retain the number of police officers that Londoners need and expect.
One small but important contribution to tackling the financial challenges facing the Met would be if the police force no longer had to subsidise gun owners.
It is now widely accepted that the fees charged for licensing firearms are nowhere near the level needed to cover costs to the police of operating a licensing system and making home security checks.
Since 2001 the cost of a five year gun licence across the UK has been frozen at £50, which in practice equates to just £10 per year. The cost of renewing a five-year licence gun licence is even lower, at just £40. By way of comparison an annual fishing rod licence costs £27, or £72 to obtain an annual licence to fish for salmon or sea trout.
To get some understanding of the significant expenditure by the police in issuing gun licences I recently asked a Mayoral Question to find out about the situation just in London.
The reply from the Mayor of London stated that the Metropolitan Police Service’s total expenditure on carrying out checks and issuing gun licences had been in excess of £20 million since 2008.
At the same time Mayor of London has admitted to the chair of the London Assembly Police and Crime Committee that the total income raised by these fees has raised a mere £1.5 million since 2008.
The idea of recovering the full costs incurred in dealing with licencing is a well established principle in many other areas of life, so how can such low fees be justified for licensing guns?
In practice they simply can’t. Even those involved in shooting reluctantly accept that some rises are inevitable, but lobbyists seek to postpone the rises by deploying a range of arguments, stretching from the fact they face delays in having their licences processed, through to claims that police forces need to be more open about about the real costs they face in processing gun applications.
The bottom line is that gun licence fees raise just a small fraction of the cost facing the police in issuing them. Valuable resources that should be spent on policing whole communities are instead being devoted to subsidising gun owners. That is wrong and indefensible.
Gun licence fees need to be significantly increased. The days of gun owners being subsidised must come to an end.
Caroline Pidgeon is leader of the Liberal Democrat London Assembly group and Deputy Chair of the London Assembly Police and Crime Committee.