A UNION official has hit out at Government cuts that he says have led to a backlog in passport applications being processed.
More than 500,000 applications are waiting to be dealt with, prompting Prime Minister David Cameron to draft in extra staff and open new offices to tackle the growing pile.
The Northern regional secretary for the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCSU) Simon Elliott said job cuts at passport offices, including at Durham’s Milburngate House, are to blame.
Mr Elliott said: “From our perspective, what is absolutely clear is that, however the Government wants to dress it up, the jobs cuts on the Durham site and others and closures of offices around the country has led to this backlog – it’s as simple as that.
“We can’t sustain a public service on the back of massive job cuts. We want to see a serious review about the staffing levels required to maintain this important public service.
In recent years, 22 interviewing offices and one application processing office have been closed, he said, while one tenth of the workforce have lost their jobs.
He added: “Our understanding is that staff are dealing with a backlog of half a million cases.
“We can’t sustain public services in the way the public want them in the face of these job cuts and office closures.”
Ed Miliband called on the premier to “get a grip” as he warned that thousands of people face cancelled holidays as a result of the problems. But Mr Cameron accused the Labour leader of trying to “frighten people”.
He said: “We have 300,000 extra applications than is normal at this time of year.
“We have increased massively the staff. The level of applications outside the normal three-week limit is less than 10 per cent of that 300,000.”
Photographs taken by anonymous members of the passport agency’s staff have emerged that are claimed to show boxes of passport applications stacked up and waiting to be dealt with in the Liverpool office.
Yesterday, Home Secretary Theresa May said the Passport Office has extended its hours to open from 7am to midnight, while staff are working longer hours and more days of the week to tackle the surge in applications.
Mr Cameron said he understood that people were “anxious” about delays but insisted the Home Office has “been on this from the very start”.
Mr Miliband said applicants were being forced to pay extra to try to fast-track their applications.
“To add insult to injury people are being told if they want their applications processed in the three-week target they have to pay an £55 extra.”
The Labour leader said: “The truth is that is tens of thousands of people are finding that their holidays are being cancelled because they are not actually getting a passport,” he added.
“He says they have increased the resources at the passport agency – that is not the case. There are greater responsibilities for the passport agency since 2010 and fewer resources.”
•Have you been affected by the passport problems? Email @petra_nep or call her on 501 7147.