Boris Johnson has threatened to “privatize the ass” of the passport office if it can not clear its backlog and deliver better value for money, a senior government source has told reporters.
The prime minister also put the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and other “arm’s length” bodies under notice in comments to cabinet ministers, according to the source who attended Tuesday’s meeting.
There had been an unprecedented increase in demand for the lifting of coronavirus restrictions because 5 million people had delayed renewing their passports during the pandemic.
Under post-Brexit EU travel rules, UK citizens must have at least three months of validity left, which threatens to put more pressure on the system.
It comes amid fears for the summer of travel chaos with Brexit queues at Dover and concerns over routine cancellation of flights.
Johnson is believed to be “appalled” by the backlog in processing passport applications and will convene the agency’s management for urgent talks at No. 10 next week.
He is said to be concerned that families wishing to go on summer vacation are under pressure to pay up to £ 100 extra per person. beware of fast applications due to delays.
The pressure on whether privatization was an option for the passport office, Johnson refused to rule it out in an interview with TalkTV. “I do not want to rule anything out. I do not mind whether it is public or private, what I want is to provide value for money and help keep people’s costs down,” he said.
“When I see institutions that do not deliver things like passports or driver’s licenses in a fast way … we want action.”
The source warned that privatization would not be the starting point, but warned that Downing Street could see companies take over if pastors could not meet the 10-week target for standard applications costing £ 75.50.
Johnson is also said to have criticized “post-Covid mañana culture” in some of the organs for not adapting to the easing of coronavirus restrictions.
In addition to the passport office, MPs have raised concerns about significant delays in submitting license applications to the DVLA.
Heathrow Airport chief executive John Holland-Kaye said it was “important” that people could go on holiday this summer if the UK reintroduced travel restrictions for coronavirus.
“Usually the passport office is very smooth in processing passports. It’s really disappointing to hear [about delays].
“If it is not resolved, it will mean that people can not get away.
“After two years of lockdown, we need to make sure that people can have a good holiday because many of them have coupons that they have saved up, they have got the journeys of their lives that they have put on hold, and we do not know when things can be shut down again.
“It’s important to get the most out of the summer,” he said.
On Monday, Commons heard about a woman who had been waiting more than five months to receive her daughter’s new passport, and the services were branded as “either really very good or an absolute chaos”.
The SNP’s Home Affairs spokesman Stuart McDonald said: “All of our constituents have to cancel vacations, miss funerals, rearrange visits, and even a new 10-week goal routinely fails.
“What will be done to prevent this predictable mess from getting worse? And can we be sure that the 10-week target will not be extended further as we approach summer?”
Home Secretary Kevin Foster said: “We do not intend to extend this standard further.
“We are currently treating most passports well within that, but we would advise people that this is a very, almost unprecedented increase in demand, and if people are planning to travel this summer, we will advise them to get their application as soon as possible. “
He said the passport office processed one million applications last month compared to 7 million a year before the pandemic.
Conservative MP Simon Hoare described the backlog as “unprecedented, true, but predictable, absolute”.
The PCS union, which represents the passport office and DVLA staff, said there is a backlog of applications due to staff shortages, poor management and errors with private contractors. HMPO planned to recruit 1,700 employees, with 450 in situ by the end of 2021. Only 300 were in place by the end of the year and they were agency staff, the PCS association said.
Union Secretary-General Mark Serwotka said: “It is clear to our members that a crucial service such as the Passport Office must have proper resources. It is absurd for Boris Johnson to threaten to privatize HMPO when it is clear that the current problems are mainly due to increased casualization of the workforce.
“Many people are desperate to start traveling again now, and therefore I would urge the Home Office to fulfill their duties to the British public and adequately fund the service, bringing the whole process back into the house.”
TUC Secretary General Frances O’Grady said: “The privatization of these services would force people to pay a premium for private profits, [adding to the cost of their passports and driving licenses]. This is the last thing working people need in a cost-of-living crisis. Boris Johnson and his ministers are responsible for running these services. Instead of doing bad politics on the hoof, he should call on his ministers to get to the bottom of why they do such a bad job. ”