Some say: ‘It’s a cheap shot… and the figures are wrong’
The owner of a country sports shop has accused the Kent Police and Crime Commissioner of taking a ‘cheap shot’ at gun users and field sports fans.
Taxpayers in Kent are subsidising gun lovers by £338,556 a year so they can obtain licences, the Crime Commissioner Ann Barnes believes.
There are more than 70,000 licensed guns in the county which includes 50,971 shotguns and 20,905 other firearms.
Processing 70,000 licences a year is essential to ensuring public safety but the money spent on it could be spent on putting an extra eight officers on the street, says Ann Barnes.
She said: “Having these guns kept here in Kent does pose a real public safety risk so it’s entirely right that they are properly accounted for, licensed to sensible people and locked away when not in use – it’s a matter of public safety.
“What I take issue with is Kent Police money – taxpayers’ money – being used to subsidise someone’s hobby. No-one subsidises a gym membership, a fishing licence or a season ticket to watch the Gills.
“Last financial year, even after collecting the licence fees, firearms licensing cost the force an extra £338,556 and it’s on course to cost about the same again this year. Frankly, I’d rather that money was spent putting an extra eight police officers on our streets.
“Kent is predominately a rural county so it is inevitable that we have more firearms applications to deal with than some other areas. If you’re a farmer and you need a gun to do your job, you can claim the cost of the application back through our tax system, and rightly so.
“I first wrote to the Prime Minister about this in 2014 and I was pleased when the cost of applying for a licence went up last year, but Kent Police is still out of pocket and I’d much rather the Chief Constable was able to recruit extra police officers to keep us safe.”
Applying for a five-year firearms licence costs the applicant £88, or £79.50 for a shotgun licence. Renewals cost £62, or £49 for a shotgun. The amounts paid fall far short of the amount Kent Police spends on processing each application and doing background checks.
But Chris Potter, who owns Chris Potter Country in Grover Street, said: “Her figures are wrong. We believe there are only 30,000 gun licence holders in Kent and that means they have a budget of £2.4million.
“We do not believe they are running at a loss. It’s a cheap shot at people who shoot for competition or pleasure.
“A gamekeeper or farm labourer cannot claim the money back against tax. A farmer can. But it will hurt people disproportionately.
“They are also issuing lots of temporary licences at the moment, not new ones? It takes just as long to issue a temporary one as a new one. Why not issue new ones. They need someone to make the system run more efficiently.”
A spokesman for the Crime Commissioner said: “It costs £180 for each type of weapon. The ballpark figure is that on average Kent police are £100 out of pocket per renewal. Some applicants need more background checks than others.
“People who are in conservation or farming can claim back the fee. But why should those who use guns as a hobby or sport leave taxpayers out of pocket?
“The next step is for the Government and Home Office to decide. They would consult and it’s not a decision we expect to be taken overnight.
“The background is that over the last five years there are 500 fewer officers and 600 fewer staff. They have left and not been replaced.”