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Scots holidaymakers facing passport misery

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SCOTTISH holidaymakers could be affected earlier than the rest of the UK by delays caused by an alleged massive backlog in passport applications, it has been claimed.

The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union has said that the timing of Scottish school holidays means that families looking to travel later this month could potentially find themselves affected sooner than the rest of the UK by delays in issuing passports.

The claim follows allegations that a backlog in passport applications is surging above 500,000 despite emergency plans being put in place as the Passport Office goes into “crisis”.

Contingency procedures to deal with the high number of submissions are failing to tackle the problem and the figures are continuing to rise, according to the PCS union.

It claims that the loss of 300 jobs and the closure of 20 offices over the past five years is behind the delays in dealing with applications.

PCS Scotland secretary Lynn Henderson said that the job cuts meant that the Passport Office in Glasgow was under pressure to do its bit in helping clear the national backlog.

“The situation in Scotland is that the passport service lost 150 processing staff in 2008, and what we don’t have in Scotland is that large number of people to process passports from receipt to sending them back out,” she said. “The immediate backlog isn’t piling up in Glasgow the way it is in Liverpool, but our staff in Glasgow are now working evenings, Saturday, Sunday overtime, to try and help alleviate the problem.”

Ms Henderson said that Passport Office managers were diverting staff from working on fraud prevention to processing the backlog, which would have a knock-on effect on processing international applications.

She added: “Given that our holiday season starts earlier, we’re about to hit the Scottish school holidays, when traditionally Scots are looking to renew their passports, it’s going to have a more immediate effect here.”

“It will be a worry for them. They can of course apply for the emergency four hour service, but it can be very expensive, and if everyone that would normally be expecting a turnaround within three weeks applies for the four hour service, it’s going to have an impact on it.”

The union has called on the Passport Office chief executive Paul Pugh to address staff shortages, and has given a deadline of 30 June to present the PCS with proposals on how they can be implemented or face a vote for industrial action.

But the Passport Office denied that it is failing to cope with applications, despite claims of severe delays.

Chief executive Paul Pugh said more than 99 per cent of “straightforward applications” were being processed within four weeks.

Applications were at a 12-year high, he said, and the agency is currently dealing with about 465,000 renewals and first-time passport requests.

The Service also denied union claims that job cuts over the past five years were to blame for any problems.

Mr Pugh has been asked to appear next week before the Commons home affairs select committee and Labour MP Geoffrey Robinson has called on him to make a “graceful exit”.

The Passport Service head admitted that there had been “exceptional” summer demand but that extra staff had been brought in to handle applications.

“We are operating seven days a week and our couriers are delivering passports within 24 hours of being produced,” Mr Pugh said.

“We have issued almost three million passports for UK customers in 2014, including over one million issued in the eight weeks since the start of April.”

Home Secretary Theresa May said the Passport Office has extended its hours to open from 7am until midnight, while staff are working longer hours and more days of the week to tackle the surge in applications.

Prime Minister David Cameron said he understood that people were “anxious” about delays but insisted the Home Office has “been on this from the very start”.

But Labour leader Ed Miliband said applicants were being forced to pay extra to try to fast-track their applications: “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.”

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