Tuesday 15 December 2009


Firearms register - why the delay?

9 years after the Dunblane school shooting and a report on the tragedy from Lord Cullen, the UK Government has still not managed to build a national firearms register.

With incidents of gun crime rising it seems appropriate to ask why a database has not been established? In Northern Ireland the Police Service has maintained a gun register for many years.

Whitehall seems unable to commission and successfully implement large scale IT projects. Advice on establishing the Firearms database was initially offered to Civil Servants by The British Computer Society (BCS) . With a membership drawn from over 100 countries, BCS is the leading professional and learned Society in the field of computers and information systems.

Civil servants rejected the offers of help.

Lets hope that the database is completed long before some sections of the Dunblane report are released after the 100 years blackout.

Lords dig heels in over firearms database bill
Sarah Petrie, Computing 15 Feb 1997

The House of Lords is piling pressure on the Government to speed up the creation of a computerised register of all firearms owners, after inflicting a third defeat on ministers over gun control.

Tory peer Lord Marlesford insisted that a database accessible online by all UK police forces is an urgent necessity to help prevent another massacre like Hungerford or Dunblane. He also cast doubt on plans to use the police national computer Phoenix system for such a database.

Marlesford said government talks about setting up a register - which would include .22 pistol owners who are required to store their weapons in secure gun-club armouries - on Phoenix were 'not good enough'.

He said he was demanding action because it was five years since a report complained that police firearms departments are not routinely informed when a firearms certificate-holder has been jailed for an offence.

He contrasted the delay with the Driver & Vehicle Licensing Authority computer system, which has been online since 1973. It is 'a tool without which the police would not be able to operate effectively today', he said.

Marlesford insisted the provision for a database should be in the bill, and he was prepared for further amendments.

'I have heard some pretty indifferent reports on the progress of Phoenix,' he added. 'The (Home Office) minister does not give me great confidence that Phoenix is necessarily the vehicle for the rapid implementation of a system which I believe is urgently required.'

He said that with a register 'there would be a better chance of picking up people with a firearm certificate who did something they should not'.

He added: 'It would be a ... way of making it less likely that people unsuited to do so would be able to hold firearms.'

Earl Attlee declared: 'It seems incredible that members of the Metropolitan Police do not know, when investigating a potential criminal, whether there is a possibility of a legal firearm being involved.'

Viscount Brookeborough said that police in Ulster maintain a register which records details of every weapon owned.

Parts of the project chronology is shown here.

UK Politicians embrace information technology

Computing magazine (October 18th) 1996 reported on how IT featured at the political party conferences.

Politics has dominated the news over the past month as the party conference season came and went, with each party promising that the country was only safe in its hands. Each also tried to show that it had a handle on information technology.

For many politicians, IT has extended no further than the Internet and there was little to suggest that this has changed. It seems the politicians peppered their speeches with IT references just to make themselves appear up-to-date.

Liberal Democrats in Brighton spoke of getting Internet providers to exclude child pornography from the Net, and Labour reiterated its commitment to increased use of IT in education in Blackpool.

But this year has seen a number of government plans which rely heavily on IT. One such scheme is the benefit payment card to tackle benefit fraud, announced by secretary of state for social security Peter Lilley, in early spring. With it came a huge IT contract award to an ICL-led consortium to develop and install the systems in Post Offices around the country.

Lilley told Tory conference delegates in Bournemouth last week that the card will eliminate order book and giro fraud. 'Before the month is out I will launch the first cards in the Post Offices,' he said. These cards will be for child benefit payment - the easiest for a young system to handle, because it is universal and standard.

Lilley also announced plans for a Fraud Bill to extend the capabilities of those fighting benefit fraud. 'A Fraud Bill is on the way in and fraudsters are on the way out,' he sound bit. New powers would allow for cross checking information on different databases, and data-matching to highlight cases worth investigation.

This week, the Government took delivery of Lord Cullen's report on firearms control. The report is expected to call for a centralised database of firearm owners - a move which would meet both pan-political and gun club approval.

The British Shooting Sports Council (BSSC) has not only called for the database, but also for better information flow between the police and gun clubs. But firearms dealer John Hoare, a member of the BSSC, claimed laws covering firearms records are archaic. 'Firearms records or transactions can't be kept on a computer,' he said.

Civil servants in fear of private sector encroachment on public sector IT jobs were dealt a blow when Ian Lang, trade and industry secretary, said he would penalise trade unions for public sector strikes. His timing was impeccable. Last week the Public Services, Tax and Commerce union began the ballot procedure for industrial action among its DSS IT Services Agency members. They are unhappy with some of the terms and conditions which they feel have been unreasonably forced upon them, and plan an overtime ban.

The Tories have realised the value of trumpeting IT achievements, and are scrambling to claim to have presided over major technology leaps this century. At least, at the Parliamentary IT Committee (Pitcom) fringe meeting, science and technology minister Ian Taylor gave a modern view, claiming that Labour is only comfortable when 'cuddling up to a monopoly'.

'I'm not prepared to let a Johnny-come-lately take the credit (for advances in technology),' he said of labour leader Tony Blair. He was, in part, referring to last year's BT and schools announcement by Blair.

Education was a dominant theme in his speech. As technology improves, online teaching will be used more widely, Taylor predicted. He said schools lacking skills in a particular subject could borrow an online teacher - a prospect which filled the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) with horror.

Taylor left his biggest shock until last, and slammed the door shut for IT analysts who have been calling for a moratorium on whether European monetary union should be dropped in favour of the millennium issue. 'The idea that we can stop one doesn't correspond with reality. So it's "heads down and get on with it" time,' he said.

Taylor emphasised the need for Government to be seen to be promoting IT. He said. 'We must not be on the back foot. It's our revolution and if we're defensive, it will be picked up by the public and they will worry about their jobs.'

It is hard to escape the conclusion that since then some elements remain unconcerned at the failure and delay of large Government IT projects.

More recently Transport Secretary Alistair Darling has floated his vision to deliver road pricing and reduce traffic congestion using satellite technology and a sophisticated database of all Britain's millions of vehicles. Tony Blair is pushing for the introduction of Identity Cards - requiring another massive real-time database.

Such schemes seem pie in the sky given the following:

U.K. government hit with another large computer failure
The computer crash is being called the biggest in U.K. government history
News Story by Laura Rohde


IT system failures continued to plague the U.K. government this week, when as many as 80,000 civil servants working for the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) had to deal with what is being described in the local press as the biggest computer crash in government history.

The DWP was carrying out a "routine software upgrade" on Monday when the system crashed, leaving around 80% of the department's 100,000 desk machines disrupted or completely shut down, a DWP spokeswoman said today. The problems lasted through most of yesterday, but the "majority of our system is up and running now," she said.

Microsoft Corp. and Electronic Data Systems Corp. (EDS) run the DWP's network as part of a $3.8 billion information technology contract.

Microsoft issued a short statement today saying that it worked closely with its partners to help rectify the situation and support the DWP, but declined any further comment. Representatives from EDS could not immediately be reached for comment.

The head of the DWP, government secretary Alan Johnson, has promised an internal inquiry into the systems failure and the role Microsoft and EDS, of Plano, Texas, played in the crisis.

The DWP, which is responsible for providing a variety of state benefits to about 24 million people, attempted to downplay the effect the computer problems will have on its customers, saying that the department's mainframe computers were not affected. "There will be delays with new and amended benefit claims, but we have been dealing with the problems though our contingency plans and the disruptions will be minimal," the DWP spokeswoman said.

It is believed that the crash was caused when an incompatible system was downloaded on to the entire network, forcing employees to send faxes because they couldn't access their e-mail accounts and to fill out some payment checks by hand.

The IT failure was only the latest in a string of serious computer system problems experienced by the department. The DWP's Child Support Agency (CSA) has been struggling with a $863 million system from EDS that has made payments to only one in eight single parents awaiting them. Last week, Johnson told a House of Commons Parliamentary Select Committee that he is considering shutting down the child-support case management and telephony system, and Doug Smith, the head of the CSA, resigned from his job.

Today the general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, Mark Serwotka, called on the government to hold off on its plans to cut 30,000 jobs in the DWP on the basis of IT improvements, in light of the computer crisis. Earlier this year, the government announced plans to eliminate 104,000 civil servant jobs across the government based in part on increased efficiencies gained though new IT systems.

Since 2001, the DWP has spent around $8.04 billion on various IT projects, including the CSA system. According to a report it submitted to a Parliament Select Committee, the department has spent $579 million on management and IT consultancy, $97.4 million on staff substitutions and contractors and $102.7 million on professional services.

The U.K.'s public sector IT projects in 2003 and 2004 are expected to cost more than $23.4 billion, but U.K. government IT projects have often been accused of being over-ambitious and prone to disastrous delays and cost overruns.

Beyond the DWP, further examples include the benefit-payment card program from the Post Office, the Department of Social Security and International Computers Ltd. (ICL), which fell apart after three years and $567 million; software problems that delayed the Swanwick air traffic control center and have since been blamed for a near collision between two airplanes; the disruption wrought on thousands of people with travel plans in 1999 by the Passport Office's new computer system, and the National Probation Service's case-record and management system which was abandoned in 2001 after it was revealed the project was expected to be two years late and 70% over budget.


Back to the Firearms Register

From Hansard 17 Jan 2005
David Heath (Somerton & Frome, LDem)

..I agree, too. The learned society, the British Computer Society, offered to give advice to the Government some years ago—an offer that was refused. Is it possible to take up the offer on behalf of the commission and the National Audit Office, to provide expert advice on the construction of IT projects? Could the Home Office be under continual review in that respect, as it is the author of the most spectacular failures of IT and has still not implemented a requirement of section 39 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 to set up a central register of holders of shotgun and firearms certificates? That was introduced seven years ago and not a single operation or programme has been constructed.

Home Office blames IT trouble for register delays

Government admits problems revealed by Computing
Parliamentary Correspondent, Computing 11 Nov 2004

The Home Office has admitted 'technical difficulties' are to blame for the latest setback to the much delayed computerised firearms register, as revealed in Computing (Computing 28 October).

The Home Office was criticised heavily last week during a House of Lords debate last week after admitting that the National Firearms Licensing Management System (NFLMS) will not go live until the New Year, some seven-years after it was recommended.

Computing reported two weeks ago that the system - a searchable register on the Police National Computer - had suffered further problems at the pilot stage.

Home Office minister Lord Rooker admitted in the House of Lords last week that 'unacceptable delays' had plagued the system developed by Anite Public Services. He said they were partly caused by restrictions on resources but claimed this had since been resolved.

Rooker said the pilots highlighted two key disabling difficulties: the system was unable to print firearms certificates and it ran too slowly for police operational services, but said 'those matters are being dealt with'.

Conservative minister Lord Marlesford described the continuing delays, which span seven years, as 'a scandal bordering on an outrage'.

Liberal Democrat Lord McNally said it was totally unacceptable for Rooker to blame technical problems so long after the register was required by law, claiming the Home Office resisted it at the time and is suspected of resisting it still.

The requirement for the register was enacted in the wake of the Dunblane massacre in 1997. An enquiry revealed faults in manual police registration.

Firearms database delayed once again

Pilot projects highlight slowness of systems and inability to print certificates
Emma Nash, Computing 27 Oct 2004

The much-delayed firearms database has been put on hold once again after problems with the system were identified in pilot tests.

The National Firearms Licensing Management System (NFLMS), a searchable gun register on the police national computer, was recommended seven years ago after the Dunblane massacre, but has suffered numerous delays ever since.

Computing has now learned that shortly after this testing began, Michael Gillespie, head of the Home Office's Public Order and Crime Issues Unit, sent a letter to Police forces throughout England and Wales detailing problems with NFLMS and delayed its general rollout once again.

Home Office Minister Lord Rooker announced the pilot in May 2002, with the full roll-out anticipated in May 2003.

By October of that year, the Police Information Technology Organisation (PITO), admitted NFLMS will be delayed until at least 2004 following an 'unsuccessful' procurement process.

And in March 2003, it said the system would be live by summer 2004, despite further delays in the procurement process.

Three months ago, Pito said most forces would be expected to migrate by January 2005. But it confirms there have been problems with the system.

'We are working with the supplier to resolve technical issues that arose during the first phase of the National Firearms Licensing Management System pilot testing,' a Pito spokesman told Computing.

'While the testing has shown that the system's functionality works well, the issues detailed in the letter to forces need to be resolved before rollout can begin,' he said.

The main problems concern the system's extremely slow operation, and its inability to print actual firearms license certificates.

PITO says the printing issue has now been resolved, but says it will not confirm new migration or rollout dates until the issues are fully resolved.

Anite Public Sector has developed the technology that will provide the searchable register of all guns on the Police National Computer in Hendon.

'The system supports a very important part of the police business and we to be confident that it is ready before handing it over to the police service to use,' the PITO spokesman said.

The news coincides with publication of Home Office figures last week that show gun crime grew three per cent last year.

Police forces start firearms database trial

Testing to begin in September
Emma Nash, Computing 14 Jul 2004

Two English police forces will start a pilot of the national firearms database in September - seven years since the system was first recommended.

Lancashire and Metropolitan Police will be the first to trial the National Firearms Licensing Management System (NFLMS).

Initial user acceptance testing begins in August, before the full system is tested the following month.

Some 42 police forces in England and Wales are expected to migrate to the new system by January next year, according to the Police Information Technology Organisation (PITO), which is co-ordinating the project.

One force is expected to have problems with the migration, so the final deadline is April 2005.

The NFLMS was originally recommended in the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 but suffered numerous delays, with work finally beginning at the end of 2003 (Computing, 18 December).

A further delay has caused the pilot to be put back by a month, but a spokesman for PITO told Computing it was not technology-related but a result of 'mundane things'.

'The original target was ready for service in August,' he said. 'That has slipped into September, but as far as we know the project remains on target.'

Supplier Anite is developing the technology, which will provide a central, searchable gun register on the Police National Computer in Hendon. Forces will be able to search for all people holding firearms and related certificates, instead of using local registers.

The NFLMS is based on an Oracle database, developed with Java and reporting tools from Business Objects.

The Anite application will be used in England and Wales. A separate system has been devised for Scottish forces.

Work starts on national gun register

Firearms Licensing Management System will link to Police National Computer
Emma Nash, Computing 18 Dec 2003

Work has finally started on the national gun register, seven years after it was first recommended.

Systems integrator Anite is developing the Firearms Licensing Management System that will link into the Police National Computer (PNC), allowing police forces across the country to share information about licensed guns.

The system will replace individual databases used by forces across England and Wales, and meet regulations stipulated under the 1997 Firearms (Amendment) Act.

"Forces will have an interface through the firearms licensing system that will link to a national certificate register on the PNC," said a Police IT Organisation (Pito) spokesman.

Anite has been working on the project for four months, and will roll it out in stages before it becomes fully operational in August 2004.

The supplier has submitted a proposed architecture to Pito and is now looking at commercially available components to implement the Firearms Licensing Management System.

"We expect there will be a database made available to forces by internet technologies," said Anite business development director Neil McIntyre.

"It will have the appropriate security controls to ensure the integrity of the information. At present there's a fragmented approach that is done on a force-by-force perspective.

"There's been a strong push by Pito and the government to provide information and intelligence across boundaries. Police will now have a national perspective."

A national firearms database was first recommended by the Association of Chief Police Officers in 1996, following the Dunblane massacre. It then appeared in the Firearms (Amendment) Act in 1997.

Gun database due in summer 2004

PITO admits further purchasing delay
Emma Nash, Computing 26 Mar 2003

The national firearms register will be up and running by summer 2004, despite further delays to the procurement process.

The central database of gun ownership has suffered several hold-ups since its recommendation in the Firearms (Amendment) Act in 1997.

Development work should have started in September last year, but problems with the procurement process forced a further delay of around a year (Computing 10 October), with 1 April pinpointed as the new date work would begin.

According to a Police IT Organisation (PITO) spokesman, the tender process has now been extended further by almost a month until 25 April, at the request of one of the bidding suppliers.

'The focus here is getting it right,' he said. 'Our target implementation date is now summer 2004. We're a bit behind on the tender process but we are not expecting that to impact on the go live date.'

The spokesman says the decision making process will commence after 25 April, but it is not known how long that will take.

The National Firearms Certificate Holders Register will be held on the Police National Computer, replacing local forces' existing systems.

The Association of Chief Police Officers first suggested a guns database in 1996. 'A central firearms register would bring clear benefits in crime detection and prevention,' it said at the time.

UK guns database delayed again

Seven-year delay comes under fire
Emma Nash, Computing 10 Oct 2002

The introduction of a national firearms database has been delayed again.

The central gun register will not be active until at least 2004, seven years after it was first proposed.

Development was due to begin last month, having already been held up since the database was recommended in the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997. But vnunet.com's sister title Computing has learned that the project has stalled.

"The initial procurement exercise has not been successful," said a Home Office spokeswoman. "Because of that, some slippage has been inevitable."

The National Firearms Certificate Holders Register database will be held centrally on the Police National Computer, replacing local forces' existing systems.

It will allow police across England and Wales to view information about licensed rifle and shotgun owners across the country.

The Police IT Organisation (Pito) re-tendered the contract this week. The project is now expected to start on 1 April 2003, and go live in April 2004.

"An original tender to provide interfaces between forces' firearms systems did not provide a satisfactory solution for the police service," said a Pito spokesman.

"It was decided that a fresh approach was needed to produce a more advanced technical solution while testing value for money."

Opposition MPs have suggested that the government is not taking crime seriously enough.

"This is yet another example of the government failing to deliver on promises," said James Paice, Conservative front bench spokesman for home affairs. "One has to wonder just how much of a priority it is for them."

The Association of Chief Police Officers first suggested a guns database in 1996. "A central firearms register would bring clear benefits in crime detection and prevention," it said at the time.

Whitehall pilots firearms register

Database was recommended five years ago
Emma Nash, Computing 30 May 2002

The government is to start developing a national firearms database in September - five years after the legislation that recommended its introduction.

Home Office Minister Lord Rooker last week said that a pilot gun register will start this year with a full roll-out anticipated in May 2003.

The database was first proposed in the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997, which was passed following the Dunblane massacre in March 1996 when 16 school children and their teacher were killed.

The Act did not specify timescales for the register, but a series of government targets have been missed.

The government claims it is committed to the register but says it had to establish more urgent projects such as the sex offenders register.

'The time-scale for delivery has been affected by the need to complete the national DNA database and to upgrade the police national computer,' Lord Rooker told the House of Lords.

But some are dismayed by the delays.

'This is something that has been going on and on,' said Lord Marlesford, former Conservative MP for Birmingham Erdington. 'The Home Office doesn't wish to do this because they didn't think of it.'

Crimes involving firearms are rising. According to Home Office figures, in 2000/2001 there were 7,362 recorded crimes in which firearms other than air weapons were used - an eight per cent rise on the previous year, which was 31 per cent up on the year before that.

Some 8.6 per cent of murders committed in 2000/2001 involved firearms, and the number of robberies involving a gun increased four per cent between 1999 and 2001.

The Association of Chief Police Officers' recommended a national guns database in 1996.

'A central firearms register would bring clear benefits in crime detection and prevention,' it said at the time.
return to meditations

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Firearms register - why the delay?

Firearms register - why the delay?

9 years after the Dunblane school shooting and a report on the tragedy from Lord Cullen, the UK Government has still not managed to build a national firearms register.

With incidents of gun crime rising it seems appropriate to ask why a database has not been established? In Northern Ireland the Police Service has maintained a gun register for many years.

Whitehall seems unable to commission and successfully implement large scale IT projects. Advice on establishing the Firearms database was initially offered to Civil Servants by The British Computer Society (BCS) . With a membership drawn from over 100 countries, BCS is the leading professional and learned Society in the field of computers and information systems.

Civil servants rejected the offers of help.

Lets hope that the database is completed long before some sections of the Dunblane report are released after the 100 years blackout.