Prime Minister threatens Passport Office with privatization over backlog

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Boris Johnson has threatened to ‘private the ass’ of the Passport Office if it cannot clear its backlog and deliver better value for money, a senior government source has claimed.

The Prime Minister also warned the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and other “independent” bodies in comments to Cabinet ministers, according to the source who attended Tuesday’s meeting.

Mr Johnson is said to be ‘horrified’ by the backlog in processing passport applications and will summon agency management for urgent interviews at No 10 on Thursday.

Boris Johnson made his comments to Cabinet ministers (Danny Lawson/PA)

He is said to be concerned that families wishing to go on summer vacation are being pressured to pay up to £100 extra per passport for fast track applications due to delays.

The source warned privatization would not be the starting point, but warned Downing Street could look to businesses to pick up the slack if passport bosses cannot meet the 10-week target for standard apps costing £75.50.

Mr Johnson is also said to have criticized the ‘post-Covid manana culture’ on some of the bodies for not adapting after the easing of coronavirus restrictions.

In addition to the Passport Office, MPs have raised concerns about significant delays in processing applications for licenses at the DVLA.

Downing Street chief of staff Steve Barclay is due to meet the head of the passport office later this week.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman would not comment on the Cabinet leaks, but told reporters: “The Prime Minister is adamant this is a serious issue facing families and it is a problem that needs to be tackled.

“That’s his goal and he’s making sure officials are asked to make sure they’re doing all they can to clear up this backlog and help hard-working families get their passports and go on vacation.”

Responding to the criticism, a spokesperson for the HM Passport Office said: ‘As of April 2021 we have been advising people to allow up to 10 weeks to apply for their UK passport as more than five million people have delayed their application in due to the pandemic.

“We urge people who need a new passport to apply for one as soon as possible, with the vast majority of all passport applications being processed within 10 weeks.

“To meet this demand, we have increased our staff by 500 since April 2021. This has helped us process more applications than ever before, with over one million passport applications processed in March 2022.”

Heathrow Airport chief executive John Holland-Kaye said it was “vital” people were able to go on vacation this summer in case the UK reintroduced coronavirus travel restrictions.

Mr Holland-Kaye told the PA news agency: ‘Normally the passport office is very skilled in handling passports. It’s really disappointing to hear (about the delays).

“If it’s not resolved, it means people can’t get out of it.

“After two years of lockdown we need to make sure people can have a great vacation because a lot of them have vouchers they’ve saved up, they’ve got trips of a lifetime they’ve put on hold, and we don’t know when things might be closed again.

“Making the most of summer is essential.”

The PCS union has condemned the Prime Minister’s proposal to privatize Her Majesty’s Passport Office.

General Secretary Mark Serwotka said: ‘It is absurd that Boris Johnson is threatening to privatize HMPO, when it is clear that the current problems are mainly due to the casualization of the workforce.

For Labor, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: ‘It is shameful that families have to cancel hard-earned holidays which cost thousands of pounds because of chaos and delays at the office passports.

“Home Office ministers were warned months ago that they needed to prepare for a surge in demand after Covid, but they have utterly failed to do so and families are paying the price.”

On Monday, the Commons heard of a woman who had waited over five months to receive her daughter’s new passport, with services marked ‘either really, really good or an absolute shambles’.

SNP home affairs spokesman Stuart McDonald said: ‘All our constituents have to cancel holidays, miss funerals, rearrange visitations, even a new 10-week target is routinely missed.

“What are we going to do to prevent this predictable mess from getting worse? And can we be sure that the 10-week target will not be stretched further as summer approaches? »

Home Secretary Kevin Foster said: ‘We have no intention of extending this standard further.

“We currently process most passports within it, but we advise people that this is a very, practically unprecedented increase in demand, and if people are planning to travel this summer, we would advise them to submit their application as soon as possible. possible.”

He said the Passport Office processed one million applications last month, up from seven million a year before the pandemic.

Tory MP Simon Hoare described the backlog as “unprecedented, true, but predictable, absolutely”.

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