Salisbury JournalMinisters step in over passport row (From Salisbury Journal)

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Ministers step in over passport row

Salisbury Journal: Extra resources have been pledged to the Passport Office to help deal with a backlog. Extra resources have been pledged to the Passport Office to help deal with a backlog.

Ministers have stepped in to prevent officials relaxing checks on overseas applicants for British passports as they scramble to deal with a backlog of at least 30,000 applications.

The Guardian published details of a leaked briefing note issued to HM Passport Office staff in Liverpool, Durham and Belfast instructing them to ease some checks in an attempt to speed up turnaround times.

But in a terse statement tonight, the Home Office said that ministers had not been informed of the note and had demanded that it should be rescinded.

"Ministers were unaware of this document and have instructed HM Passport Office to withdraw it immediately," a spokesman said.

The disclosure is a further embarrassment for the Government after David Cameron came under fire at Prime Minister's Questions over the build-up of tens of thousands of applications which had lain waiting for three weeks or longer.

The briefing note, posted on The Guardian website, allows staff to drop checks on counter-signatories, as well as requirements for evidence of addresses and letters of confirmation from employers and accountants.

"The changes are focused on achieving the right balance between customer service, public protection and organisational requirements," it states.

"These changes are being published now in light of the need to speed up turnaround times."

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the briefing showed the Government was in denial about the state of the crisis.

"This is seriously chaotic," she told The Guardian. "If this is what the Prime Minister meant by getting a grip with the situation, he needs to think again."

Earlier, it was announced that new passport offices were to be opened in an effort to get rid of the backlog of applications ahead of the great summer getaway.

Ministers blamed a surge in applications since the start of 2014, which have pushed numbers up to a 12-year high, and said the Passport Office was putting more staff and resources into dealing with the problem.

But Labour leader Ed Miliband said tens of thousands of families were facing the possible cancellation of their holidays and called on ministers to "get a grip".

Comments (2)

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9:59am Wed 11 Jun 14

white rabbit9 says...

You are a legal entity, you are a monster!!
You are a legal entity, you are a monster!! white rabbit9
  • Score: -1

10:05am Wed 11 Jun 14

Chris Neville-Smith says...

As an ex-employee of the Passport Office, I'm not too surprised this has happened.

It is fair to say the Passport Office does have a challenge of varying demand between summer and winter. However, their response keeps going from one extreme to the other. Round about 2006, when ID cards were all the rage and money was no object, they were quite happy to over-recruit and prepare for any spike in demand. Since 2010, when attention switched to austerity, Passport Office management switched attention to outdoing other departments for cuts. They only needed to downsize staff to become self-funding, but they went way further than they had to with staff cuts.

I understand they're now working at a bare minimum of examiners, and rely on overtime every weekend for months on end to get through the summer months - and that was really pushing their luck. Overtime was supposed to be a flexible means of dealing with unexpected spikes in demand. When you're already using overtime to the limit to meet expected summer demand, you have no options left to deal with higher than expected demand.

I'm afraid to say that, in my view, the root problem of the Passport office is that HQ has been dysfunctional ever since they lost ID cards. The regional offices are doing OK under the circumstances they're in, but if it was up to me, I would completely dismantle their HQ in London and start again.
As an ex-employee of the Passport Office, I'm not too surprised this has happened. It is fair to say the Passport Office does have a challenge of varying demand between summer and winter. However, their response keeps going from one extreme to the other. Round about 2006, when ID cards were all the rage and money was no object, they were quite happy to over-recruit and prepare for any spike in demand. Since 2010, when attention switched to austerity, Passport Office management switched attention to outdoing other departments for cuts. They only needed to downsize staff to become self-funding, but they went way further than they had to with staff cuts. I understand they're now working at a bare minimum of examiners, and rely on overtime every weekend for months on end to get through the summer months - and that was really pushing their luck. Overtime was supposed to be a flexible means of dealing with unexpected spikes in demand. When you're already using overtime to the limit to meet expected summer demand, you have no options left to deal with higher than expected demand. I'm afraid to say that, in my view, the root problem of the Passport office is that HQ has been dysfunctional ever since they lost ID cards. The regional offices are doing OK under the circumstances they're in, but if it was up to me, I would completely dismantle their HQ in London and start again. Chris Neville-Smith
  • Score: 9
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