Passport Office staff are “too afraid” to speak about their working conditions, and morale is at an “all-time low” as they attempt to ease the application backlog, MPs have heard. Labour MP Mary Kelly Foy said civil servants working for the Passport Office at its base in her City of Durham constituency are “under immense pressure” as a result of the Government’s “failure to prepare” for an increase in applications.
The MP revealed the conditions staff are facing as Labour failed in a bid to censure Home Office minister Kevin Foster and force him to apologise to the Commons over his handling of the passport application backlog, which has left some families unable to go on holiday this year. The motion was rejected by 295 votes to 198, majority 97.
Ms Foy shared the experiences from “brave whistleblowers” based at the Durham site, telling the Commons: “There appears to be widespread mismanagement and structural issues that are slowing the attempts to clear the backlog. These problems include delays in the full rollout of the digital application programme system, incorrect advice being given by the helpline outsourced to Teleperformance, inefficiencies and errors from private contractors such as Sopra Steria, and the double handling of applications.
“There’s also been an influx of agency staff, resulting in the current staff being pulled from their roles to train these temporary workers. Staff morale is understandably at an all-time low.
“Covid outbreaks have led to staff shortages yet staff are under pressure to return to office working, including alleged bullying tactics from senior officials and poor communication from management.”
She said staff had told her they were too afraid to speak out for fear of disciplinary action. She said they have also been subjected to verbal abuse from members of the public.
Shadow Home Office minister Stephen Kinnock argued ministers were “warned repeatedly about the possible backlog, but they failed to plan”. He said: “Today on these benches we will be voting to demand an apology from the minister to the British people for the abject failure of the Passport Office to meet the standards that they have promised and that the tax-paying British public expect and deserve.”
“After a really tough couple of years, British families deserved a well-earned break, but thousands have missed out,” he added.
Home Office minister Kevin Foster accused Labour of trying to “have a pop” at him because he said it had “no alternative to what we have done already”, however he did not answer repeated requests from the opposition to reveal the size of the passport backlog. He also rejected the idea that the Passport Office backlog is “unique” to Britain.
He told the Commons: “There’s plenty of other examples around the world, despite the interesting comments we have heard here trying to make out that somehow this is unique, that this is just unique to Britain. Some of them really need to actually perhaps visit a website or two and perhaps actually read an international newspaper to find out that some things do actually happen across the world, not just in the United Kingdom.”