Update re UKL Passport Office Fiasco

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ISSUE 1507, Sunday 11 July 1999

Passport Agency 'to be privatised', By David Cracknell, Political Correspondent

THE new head of the troubled Passport Agency has been ordered to draw up plans for its possible privatisation following the fiasco over holiday delays.

Bernard Herdan, who takes over tomorrow, will conduct an immediate review of the status of the agency and make recommendations to the Government. He has been told by Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, that "all options are open", including a sell-off.

Ministers want the urgent rethink after being blamed for the current passport backlog, which they believe was ultimately the result of poor management. Privatisation would mean replacing civil servants with private-sector managers who would be charged with boosting efficiency and ensuring that there is no further crisis.

The development will outrage the unions, who believed that they had an assurance that privatisation was not on the agenda. The passport organisation was made an executive agency of the Home Office in 1991 under the Conservative government, having previously been part of the department.

A member of the Government said: "The first task of the new chief executive will be to complete a report on whether agency status should be dropped, whether it should be privatised or whether it should be kept in the public sector."

Ann Widdecombe, the shadow home secretary, said: "A fresh look at the Passport Agency is welcome. You don't want to return it to the Home Office because it would be less accountable as a small part of one department. Privatisation is an option, but so is keeping it as an agency with tighter control."

Mr Straw's view of privatisation has radically changed over time. In opposition, he said prison privatisation was "morally repugnant", but has extended the policy since coming to office.

The Telegraph disclosed last week that Mr Herdan was denied performance-related pay in his previous job as chief executive of the Driving Standards Agency after failing to solve problems with waiting lists.

Tokyo's ambassador to London has complained to the Home Office over the "disappearance" of more than 70 passports belonging to Japanese citizens in Britain, most of which had been sent to immigration officials for visa extensions. The loss has forced businessmen, journalists and students to cancel travel plans - stranding them in Britain.

-- Old Git (anon@spamproblems.com), July 10, 1999


sell it off so it's not their problem? their compliant percentage would even look better, too.

-- sarah (qubr@aol.com), July 11, 1999.

I wonder if this is the beginning of a trend - Y2K problems being an excuse to privatize public agencies (reducing regulations and public scrutiny)?

-- Linda (lwmb@psln.com), July 11, 1999.

Sorry - this is a good idea (privitizing) at a very bad time. You can't get rid of a potentially failing process by selling it (thus introducing new manageres, new problems, and new operators) and you can't fix a problem while changing the fundemental operating structure of a government agency.

They will just have to wade through the garbage and failed remnents of the current system to patchup as much as they can. For as long as they can.

-- Robert A Cook, PE (Kennesaw, GA) (cook.r@csaatl.com), July 12, 1999.

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