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Boris Johnson threatens to ‘privatise the arse’ off Passport Office, over delays hitting holidays

PM said to be ‘horrified’ at breaching of 10-week target for applications – as summer nears

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 26 April 2022 20:07 BST
There has been an unprecedented surge in demand after the lifting of Covid restrictions as millions people delayed renewing their passports
There has been an unprecedented surge in demand after the lifting of Covid restrictions as millions people delayed renewing their passports (PA)

Boris Johnson has refused to rule out a sell-off of the Passport Office, after threatening to “privatise the arse” off the organisation as he lashed out at huge delays putting holidays at risk.

The prime minister also put other quangos on notice to improve their performance at a cabinet meeting to discuss the cost-of-living crisis – at which ministers were told there will be no extra spending.

Mr Johnson is said to be “horrified” at the Passport Office repeatedly breaching a new 10-week target for processing applications, branded an “absolute shambles” by MPs.

And in interview with TalkTV, he pointedly declined to rule out privatisation, saying he wanted whatever system would deliver a “cheaper, faster” service.

“I don’t care whether an institution is in the private or public sector,” said the PM. “I just want it to deliver value and a good service.

“And I think that we all as public servants - I as the leader of the whole of the public service in this country - have to recognise that we’ve been through a very difficult time, we supported businesses with huge sums of taxpayers money, but we’re now facing tougher economic times.

“I’m not going to rule anything out. It is about delivering value for money and and getting costs down. If you go on holiday with your family, it can cost hundreds of pounds to get new passports. You deserve to have a cheaper, faster service.”

There has been an unprecedented surge in demand after the lifting of Covid restrictions because 5 million people delayed renewing their passports during the pandemic.

Brexit is also a factor, as Britons must now have at least three months left on their passports in order to travel to the EU, putting more strain on the system.

A senior government source said Mr Johnson had used the phrase “privatise the arse” at the cabinet meeting as a threat if the backlogs cannot be cleared.

Thousands of holidaymakers have been left with no choice but to pay £150 to fast-track their passport applications in time for the summer break.

That makes it a cost of living issue, the prime minister is thought to believe, with people having to fork out for the premium service to get their passport on time.

The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA) is also facing a huge backlog of applications delays, potentially preventing professional drivers from getting back to work.

The prime minister also pledged to increase scrutiny of what he called the “post-Covid mañana culture” at some public bodies.

The comment would come close to calling some civil servants lazy. The phrase is defined as meaning “anytime between tomorrow and never”.

It comes after Jacob Rees-Mogg was strongly criticised for leaving “nasty” notes on empty desks in Whitehall in an apparent attack on civil servants working from home.

In his interview with TalkTV, Mr Johnson confirmed that he used the phrase.

And he said: “I think that we have a general issue in our approach to public services, and perhaps more widely, that we all got used to working from home - to Zoom calls, to thinking that we could do business like that. And I think for many people it is great... particularly for women with kids, parents who have kids. “But I have to ask myself, when I am the custodian of the public purse, and I'm looking at how much we're taking in and how much we're spending, I have to ask myself whether actually it is as productive as all that.

“ When I see institutions not delivering things like passports or driving licences in a speedy way - and these things are quite expensive, it's 150 quid to get a new passport - we want action.”

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