Even while ministers were reassuring Parliament about the performance of HM Passport Office (HMPO) as delays to passport deliveries grew early this summer, the report says, HMPO’s own performance data was telling “a very different story”.
The data shows that HMPO failed to process 28% of standard applications within its 15 working day deadline in the last week of June, compared to 12% in the first week of June – and against a target of 1%. The report also states that by June, the organisation had a backlog of 537,663 applications. Although this number fell to 403,959 in July, this was still “unacceptably high”, according to the report.
The committee writes in the report ‘Her Majesty’s Passport Office: delays in processing applications’ that “we do not expect ministers to have to perform detailed management of HMPO, especially considering the office has a complete management team and a chief executive, Paul Pugh.”
The report continues: “We expect someone in Mr Pugh's position, who is paid £104,000 of taxpayers’ money, to be able to manage the running of HMPO effectively.
“The recent crisis shows that there has been a complete management failure at the highest levels of the organisation.
“Given the information that was provided in Parliament, it seems that initially ministers were not adequately briefed on the level of underperformance in HMPO, and subsequently did not have to hand the most up-to-date statistics.”
The committee says it is “concerned by the apparent miscommunication between the executive agency and its home department.”
It calls on the Home Office to “remove the agency status from the HMPO and bring it back under the direct control of ministers” – just over a year after it was established in May 2013.
Minister for security and immigration James Brokenshire told Parliament in June that between January and 31 May 2014, HMPO had received 3.3m applications – 350,000 more than the same period the previous year.
From early 2014, HMPO has taken on responsibility for processing applications from British nationals overseas after the Foreign Office closed its international network of seven Regional Passport Processing Centres – a decision the report calls “a mistake”.
The report estimates that the number of overseas applications stands at 390,000 every year, and says that “HMPO’s performance in processing these applications from overseas was particularly poor.”
Home secretary Theresa May announced in June that HMPO “is dealing with the highest demand for passports in 12 years” and that it “has been putting steps in place to deal with the extra demand”.
HMPO staff have accumulated more than £3m worth of overtime between January and May. But today’s report says that “the use of overtime to deal with peaks in demand has proved unsustainable this year.”
Responding today to the report, Brokenshire said that "in response to the significant increase in demand the home secretary introduced a series of measures to ensure that passports could be received by people in time for them to travel on their summer holidays.”
He added: “This action has had a significant impact, reducing HMPO's outstanding number of applications from a peak of nearly 550,000 in June to around 90,000 today.
"Clearly this is little comfort for those who experienced delays and we need to make sure there is no repeat of the problems experienced this year. That is why the home secretary commissioned two reviews of HMPO to ensure it is working as effectively as possible. We are currently considering the findings of these reviews and will be announcing our response shortly.”