UNION bosses have branded the Prime Minister’s threat to “privatise the arse” out of the passport office as “absurd”.

The Prime Minister also put the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), which is based in Swansea, and other “arm’s length” bodies on notice in comments to Cabinet ministers, according to the source who attended Tuesday’s meeting.

A senior Government source told the PA news agency that Boris Johnson was “horrified” at the backlog in dealing with passport applications and will summon the agency’s leadership for urgent talks at No 10 next week.

He is said to be concerned that families wanting to go on summer holidays are under pressure to pay up to £100 extra per passport for fast-track applications because of delays.

The source said that privatisation would not be the first point of call, but warned that Downing Street could look to businesses to take over if passport bosses could not meet the 10-week target for standard applications costing £75.50.

Mr Johnson was also said to have criticised “post-Covid manana culture” at some of the bodies for not adapting after the easing of coronavirus restrictions.

There are seven passport offices across the UK, one of which is based at Nexus House on Usk Way in Newport.

As well as the Passport Office, MPs have been raising concerns over significant delays in turning round applications for licences at the DVLA.

Staff at the agency, which issues driving licences, took strike action last year following Covid outbreaks and their fears bosses were failing to keep them safe.

There have also been some tensions between the UK Government's Welsh Office and the Welsh Government which maintained stricter Covid safety measures for all employers in Wales including advice on maintaining working from home when possible.

Downing Street chief of staff Steve Barclay is expected to meet with the Passport Office official later this week.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman would not comment on Cabinet leaks, but told reporters: “The Prime Minister is adamant this is a serious issue facing families and it’s one that needs to be gripped.

“That’s his focus and he is ensuring that those responsible will be asked to make sure they are doing everything possible to clear this backlog and help hard-working families get their passports, get on holiday.”

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) said that the passport office needed to be properly resourced if it was to deal with the current rise in demand.

“It is clear to our members that a crucial service like the Passport Office needs to be properly resourced,” he said.

“It is absurd for Boris Johnson to threaten to privatise HM Passport Office, when it is clear that the current problems are mainly down to increased casualisation of the workforce.

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“Many people are desperate to now start travelling again, and so I would call on the Home Office to fulfil their duties to the UK public and adequately fund the service, bringing the whole process back in house.”

Around 6.5 million passport applications are processed each year, according to the PCS, however that figure is expected to rise to 9.5 million this year.

HM Passport Office planned to recruit 1,700 staff to help deal with the increased demand, the union said, with around 450 to be in place by the end of 2021.

However, the PCS reported that the actual number was closer to 300, with this mostly made up of agency staff.

And responding to Mr Johnson’s reported criticism that certain bodies were struggling to adapt to the easing of coronavirus regulations, a PCS spokesperson said: “The backlog of work is not due to home working.

“The only staff who are currently working from home, whether permanently or hybrid, are able to complete their full remit from home.” 

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