Urgent talks to recruit more than 100 staff at a North East Passport Office are critical, a union warned, as Theresa May announced major changes.
The Passport Office will be abolished and taken under direct Home Office control, the Home Secretary revealed on Friday, but the PCS union says the Durham office desperately needs more staff to avoid another crisis.
The senior Tory, tipped to run for the party leadership, is accused of trying to “bury an awkward issue” by making the statement just minutes before Parliament met to discuss air strikes on Iraq.
The Public and Commercial Services Union says the Durham office desperately needs more than 100 new staff to avoid a crisis similar to the delays which engulfed the service in the summer and slammed a lack of consultation.
Backlogs of 500,000 passport applications saw MPs inundated with complaints in the summer and temporary staff brought in to help.
A spokesman for the PCS union said Ministers must address a ‘serious’ shortfall in staff at the North East base, where around 700 people are employed and union members staged a 24-hour strike in July.
General secretary Mark Serwotka said: “Despite the cynical timing of the announcement, clearly designed to bury an awkward issue, we welcome this if it will mean we get the staff we need to provide a quality service under public control.
“Instead of the short term measures we’ve seen, we want to sit down and negotiate a long term solution to staffing to ensure the crisis we saw this summer is not repeated in future.”
Cuts to the Passport Office nationally have seen 315 jobs lost and 23 offices closed since 2010.
A local PCS spokesman added: “We are pressing for urgent negotiations on increasing staffing to ensure the crisis we saw this summer is not repeated year after year.”
He added: “The decision [to abolish the Passport Office] was unavoidable. Senior management at the Passport Office had failed to get a grip on the agency and put in place the resources necessary to provide a proper service.
“They’ve made the announcement today [Friday] because their embarrassing climbdown will get limited coverage because of the Iraq debate.”
The Home Secretary also announced that Paul Pugh, the Passport Office’s chief executive, will lose his job as part of the shake-up.
She said: “As the events of the summer showed, it is essential that Her Majesty’s Passport Office is run as efficiently as possible and is as accountable as possible.
“I also know that its hard-working staff are committed to delivering a high quality service to the public.
“I believe these changes will put them in a stronger position to do so.”