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Saturday, October 09, 2010

The wrong choice

Yesterday's revelation that the Home Office are consulting on closing down the Newport Passport Office came as a bit of a shock.

It was not that there are proposals to make cuts, that was expected. After all, the coalition government has inherited a huge financial mess off Labour and need to bring public spending under control. I think everybody knew that this would involve difficult decisions and that job losses would follow.

I also do not buy Labour's crocodile tears over this issue. After all they were responsible whilst in government for the loss of hundreds of civil service jobs in Wales and the closure of local offices, chiefly in HMRC but also in the Land Registry, DVLA and the Employment services. A lot of the outrage currently on the front pages of our newspapers from Labour politicians needs to be viewed in that context.

However, even though a decision has not yet been taken and consultation is underway, it is already clear that this is the wrong move for two main reasons:

Firstly, this is not some regional sub-office. Wales is a country in its own right and though we rightly form part of the United Kingdom in terms of Home Affairs and Foreign Relations, there is a great deal of sense in having a passport office based here, both for employment reasons and prestige. The fact that Wales will become the only country in Europe without a fully-fledged passport office is actually very significant.

Secondly, if the Home Office is trying to save money by reducing the number of local offices then they have chosen the wrong target. Everybody knows that civil service offices in London are difficult to sustain. The over-heating economy in the South East makes it hard to attract staff due to the relatively poor wages civil servants get, the rent, rates and general overhead costs of keeping offices in London are massively more expensive than elsewhere, and the rationale for keeping an office in the UK capital tends to rest on prestige rather than sound economics.

The logical alternative would be to close the London Passport Office and relocate the head office functions elsewhere. That would save far more money and ensure that the job losses occurred in an area where there are at least alternative jobs. It would also enhance the Newport Office as it would then become the nearest passport office to the Southern international airports albeit with good transport links along the M4 and on the main train line.

The Government seem to be arguing that people from South Wales and the South West of England can travel to London to get their passport. I say, let those in the South East of England come here instead.

Can i ask Peter, is that statement based on a like-for-like comparison? For example, are we comparing Wales with the Asturias, Madeira, Bavaria etc - or with independent countries such as Estonia and Malta - which, to be fair, you would expect to maintain their own passport offices ?

Also, not sure that Newport is of much value if you live in Bangor or Wrexham - surely you'd pop across the border anyway if you lived away from the M4?
The comparison is with the other nations of the UK. If you are in North Wales then there is a passport office in Liverpool, Newport serves South Wales and the South West. In addition there is a passport office in Glasgow, Durham, Peterborough, Belfast and London.
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