Friday, 13 June 2014

Passports: Worse Than It Seems

The passports thing is an amazing nonsense, and symptomatic of worse.  Let's start with the present furore.  Isn't Teresa May on serious manoeuvres to be next leader of the Tory Party ?  Doesn't every ambitious minister ask their Permanent Secretary to keep them fully apprised on all the known bear-traps that can swallow them up out of a clear blue sky** ?  Doesn't everyone over the age of (say) 35 recall the previous passport chaos which came to a head in (IIRC) 2001-ish ?

For the record, that previous episode was solved comprehensively - presumably by the application of an appropriate amount of political will and, yes, resources (of whch a good project manager was probably the most important).  I had to renew mine in late 2001, by which time the system was working brilliantly; and then again in 2011, when I renewed by post and it came back so quickly I could scarcely believe it.  So it's been working fine until quite recently, at least as a mechanistic process.

We therefore conclude that, as well as May taking her eye off the ball, some idiot civil servant has taken resources off the job.  I'm guessing that demand for passports has increased steadily with the decade's worth of massive immigration; though it's not obvious to me why this should have mushroomed since my good experience in 2011.  We can't rule out dumb-insolent sabotage by the Yes-Minister brigade, of course (you want cuts, Home Secretary?  Leave it to us.)  Though that still doesn't explain May's indolence in her own cause.

But there's a bigger point, signalled by the important (though hardly surprising) Grauniad revelation that staff processing passport applications were told to relax checks in order to speed the plough.  

We know that's also how lengthening airport queues have been handled in the past: and from my vantage point of local politics (with the biggest Home Office processing unit based in the centre of my manor), I can assure you it's par for the course.  Other examples:  staff in many parts of the civil service that need to deal with passports and other forms of ID are left completely up in the air when dealing with documents not written in Roman script (which is of course rather a lot of the world's itinerant population these days) so they just nod them through none the wiser;  occasional spot-checks reveal there is rampant personation in citizenship exams, many of which are written papers or computer-based tests.

But nobody cares enough to put two and two together.  A big chunk of unwanted immigration (see all main political parties) could be switched off at the drop of a hat by simple attention to these details.  Are minor budgetary savings more important than this ?  I'd have thought this was 'flagship policy' stuff: Labour, yes Labour, are making hay with the Tories' failed promise to reduce immigration substantially. 

One way and the other, Teresa May has really screwed up.  Doubtless, Genius Osborne thinks this is all just fine and dandy, and his path to the top is all the clearer.   I'd say it disqualifies both of them.


** yeah, mixed metaphors, I know 


Anonymous said...

I had one of the first chip passports (non-UK) and it came quickly and allowed me to go through Heathrow quickly. My other half had to go through the conventional queue. To me this was a real benefit of being an inadvertent early adopter.

My recent trip through Heathrow was a pain, as more UK (chipped) passport holders are trying to go through the electronic border. They fail miserably to cope with the technology or the instructions (only in English). The technology laggards on the other hand are sailing through the conventional queue.

I understand there is also the issue of capacity to produce these new passports as the processes are different.

So on one hand you could argue that such a change to newer technology could have been foreseen but nothing has been done with regards to passport production capacity. Or that civil servants are as bewildered as the tourists when it comes to new technology.

I'm going to put it down to piss poor planning.

Electro-Kevin said...

Tories want cheap labour.

Labour needs its impoverished client class.

Mass immigration delivers both.

Nick Drew said...

civil servants are as bewildered as the tourists when it comes to new technology

oh yes - though not uniquely so, but worse than most

BrianSJ said...

Tony Collins is on the IT side of the case at

Sebastian Weetabix said...

IIRC 1998 was the last passport fiasco.

I'm just surprised it's taken this long to go wrong again. We must be the only civilised country in the world that has a ruling class of clever-clever oxbridge essay writers, rather than people who can actually do stuff.

Speaking as a Scot, I suspect it'll never change until you dozy, tolerant, lumpen Saxons kick out your Norman overlords.

Steven_L said...

Share prices of THU and Thomas Cook, plus new money laundering rules on prepay credit cards and payday loans might give some insight as to why demand for passports has increased?

Steven_L said...

Sorry, TUI and Thomas Cook

Nick Drew said...

Thanks, Brian - excellent link

(turns out it was 1999, SW, see link above)

SL - interesting ! joined-up govt strikes again

expat said...

As a Brit resident overseas I got my new chipped passport a few years ago via the local Embassy. It was processed and delivered to me within a week, along with the appropriate extension for unused time on the old passport.

My first trip with it was to Australia - where their immigration officers had obviously never been briefed about these changes. I literally had to physically restrain the one processing my entry from digging the chip out of the back cover - and the noise I made brought the duty supervisor running to my counter. After he advised his oik not to be so effing stupid the entry was processed quite normally.

I wonder if others have had similar experiences?

Anonymous said...

I read somewhere the new passport chips could be detected by contactless scanners, and the following suggests it is correct. I was entering UK passport control, having not (yet) shown any ID etc, and as I walked up to the bloke he said to me "you've been to Hanoi recently" which was true.

Can't think of any other explanation (without getting into really paranoid territory)

gsd said...

Well, I've got some real life facts here!

On the Friday before the current passport crisis story was picked up by the papers, I sent my passport off to be renewed. [standard fee, no fast track or anything]

Then story hit the headline & I thought "Bloody typical - great timing again from me! - It'll be weeks & weeks before I get it back".

0815H today, the doorbell rings. Bloke hand-delivering my new passport.

A 2.5 week turnaround is not bad in my book!