Unions have hit out at the prime minister’s threat to privatise the Passport Office and other agencies over backlogs, blaming government recruitment failures and outsourcing for delays.
Boris Johnson reportedly threatened to “privatise the a*** off” the HM Passport Office and DVLA at a cabinet meeting yesterday over the backlogs in turning around passport and licence applications.
Meanwhile, government efficiency minister Jacob Rees-Mogg has published guidance which could lead to more services currently delivered by arm’s-length bodies being outsourced.
Labelling the PM’s comments as “absurd”, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said the delays at the Passport Office are due to the Home Office failing to recruit enough staff, poor management and contractor failures.
The union said 500,000 passport applications are waiting to be opened and scanned on to the system by contractor Sopra Steria, which provides frontline and support services across the Passport Office’s seven locations.
PCS says the Passport Office had planned to recruit up to 1,700 new staff to meet demand, with a target of having 450 in place by the end of 2021. But closer to 300 were recruited, and these are agency staff, according to the union.
The union also said new agency staff are being given inadequate training and inductions are not taking place as management rushes to get staff in place.
Serwotka has called for the Home Office to bring the whole of the passport service back in house rather than privatising it.
Prospect deputy general secretary Garry Graham also hit out at Johnson’s comments, saying: “The PM and his cabinet need to stop attacking public servants and agencies to distract from problems in Downing Street.
“After more than a decade of deeply damaging spending cuts, it is no surprise that services suffer.
“Rather than threatening government agencies and their staff with privatisation, the government should provide real investment to deliver the kind of services the British public deserve.”
Johnson followed up his cabinet meeting comments by confirming he would not rule out privatising the Passport Office in an interview with Talk TV yesterday evening.
“I’m not going to rule anything out. I don’t mind if it’s public or private, what I want is to deliver value for money and help keep people’s costs down,” he said.
“When I see institutions not delivering things like passports or driving licences in a speedy way, these things are quite expensive, it’s £150 to get a new passport, we want action.”
The Home Office has been approached for comment.