Crisis at the UK Passport Office

It’s a long time since I had a rant but this has really got my flames throwing!

Those of us in the UK are sure to have seen the latest news regarding the backlog of Passport applications.  Depending on which news report you read there are up to 500,000 applications outstanding, with around half of these since the start of the year.

Some will blame the government – after all it is a government office, some will blame people for submitting late applications.

There is plenty at fault here –

  • People booking holidays and not checking the expiry date of their passports.
  • People booking holidays without having a passport to start with.
  • An increase of applications due to  the UK economy steadily improving. (Apparently – although I don’t see where!)
  • The World Cup.
  • The staff at the Passport Office not pulling their finger out and shifting up a gear to increase their work rate to keep up with SLAs and KPIs.
  • The management at the Passport Office not assessing the situation early enough.
  • The senior management at the Passport Office failing at ‘forward planning’

There are plenty of things that are right though:

  • The need to check and double check EVERY application.
  • The need to ensure the security of the UK is upheld.

When I worked at a Service Desk we regularly reviewed our processes and staffing levels needed.
For example:

  • Return to work after the weekend and forgetting passwords (also applies to Bank Holiday weekends!)
  • Major software rollouts requiring staff to reconfigure some applications – despite being given instructions some numpties will always ignore it and call the Service Desk!

We always had plans for staffing levels – the number of people that were allowed holiday varied for each day of the week and when there were special projects overtime was available.
We ensured that we had multi-function staff so we could count on staff from other areas to help with work spikes.
We didn’t always get it right,  in fact there were times when it all went completely shit faced/tits up. It’s at those times that companies think that bringing in ‘troubleshooters’ or ‘consultants’ will resolve all the issues or they’ll throw extra NEW staff at it. Well let me tell you that’ll only solve some of the problems.
By the time they get to that point the staff and junior management have usually worked their fingers to the bone, given up breaks,  lunches and worked extra hours without pay to try to keep up for the sake of the business. Also covering for less able staff and management. The ones that don’t leave are the ones that deserve medals. I’ve been there, done it, got through the other side, got the scars to show for it.. (actually more than once!! try 3 or 4 times – God I’m resilient!!)
The major thing about issues like this is that management and certainly senior management never seem to learn from previous troublesome times, they hardly ever want to consult with staff lower down the chain. In fact when they do ask for ideas the staff member is often shouted down by bullish (or bullying) senior management.

So what should the Passport Office have done?

  • They should have had a better awareness of the possible numbers of applications.
  • Were  they were aware that applications would increase for the World Cup?
  • Surely they know from previous years the volumes expected week by week / month by month?
  • Review the staffing levels, make sure that other staff can be made available to help out.

What about some of the applicants? (this is just a general observation and doesn’t cover every scenario)

  • They should check and double check their application form.
  • Before booking a holiday make sure you have your passport and if you already have one that it’s still in date.

What would I suggest?

The Passport Office need to go through their processes, maybe they need to think of Lean and/or 5S methodology.
They should review any SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) that they have;  if they have them of course. What ever they are using at the moment clearly isn’t working.
Review of staffing levels and staff roles.
I don’t think throwing new staff at the problem will help in the short term, you’d have to train them first and if they are temporary who’s to say they would do a thorough job?
I’ve also seen in the news that they are going to ASK staff not to use their mobile phones while working.  WHAT??? They shouldn’t be using their phones while working! Perhaps the staff need to be reminded that they have a social life because they work not the other way around!

This is just my opinion – (and a simplistic one at that!) I’m not an expert. I’ve never run a company but I have been at the staff and management ends of quite serious upheavals at the Service Desk where I worked for nearly 13 years. I’ve also been part of a ‘working party’ to  review processes and procedures so I can speak here from my experiences.

If the government would like to employ me as someone from outside to look in then I am available – for a fee or a decent wage 🙂

What are your thoughts?


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