UK Home Office dangles £20m for national gun licence database system

But potential bidders will have to move fast on this one

The Home Office is looking to replace its ancient and creaky National Firearms Licensing Management System (NFLMS) in a £20m contract.

NFLMS is the central police database of every firearm owner and every individual firearm in England and Wales. Whoever wins the contract will have a relatively low profile but critically important system to deliver.

"NFLMS is used by forces teams across England and Wales and these teams conduct approximately 170,000 licence grants, renewals and variations per year," said a notice on procurement website Bidstats.uk.

It added: "the current NFLMS system has always been a challenge to change and adapt as requirements, technology, legislation and/or policy changes. A key requirement of the new system is that it is flexible, adaptive to change and future refinement."

The database came into existence in the mid-2000s as a result of recommendations made after the 1997 murders at a primary school in Dunblane. A 2006 pilot project ran into problems, as The Register reported at the time, because of "difficulties in implementing the necessary standardised IT systems across 43 police forces [across England and Wales]."

The budget overran by £1.5m from its original £5m estimate.

Since then laws, technology and the number of systems plugged into NFLMS have multiplied. The system currently reads and writes to the population-scale Police National Computer database and the Police National Database, among others. (One records people; the other is used for intelligence.)

The creaky old system is well known for its opacity, to the point where at least one consultancy offers a frontend product for it that exports information from NFLMS into a "time saving and efficient" local document handling system.

Weaknesses do exist in the system thanks to very limited functionality allowing integration with modern e-commerce systems for firearm certificate issuing and fee payments. Although some police forces have got their act in gear to enable electronic payments of fees and changes of personal details or information about guns bought and sold, many others will still only accept paper forms and cheques in order to make changes to NFLMS.

Such inefficiencies have consequences. Back in 2013 South Yorkshire Police managed to lose track of 9,000 licensed firearms after a data entry clerk went rogue and stopped accurately updating the system with details from paper forms.

Yorkshire police lose 9,000 guns in rogue BOFH database blunder

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The result is a slow (as shown by the British Association for Shooting and Conservation's police force league table) and bureaucratic licensing system that is not really helped by its archaic central database.

Procurement of a modern replacement is overdue, though the Home Office's track record with large-scale database IT projects is not very promising.

Interested parties for the NFLMS replacement contract need to get their acts together quickly; the deadline for expressions of interest is 2359 on 14 March. ®

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