HC Deb 23 November 1994 vol 250 cc163-4W
Mr. Hayes

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the future of the United Kingdom Passport Agency.

Mr. Howard

A review of the work of the United Kingdom Passport Agency has now been completed. Like other reviews of executive agencies, this included an evaluation of the agency's performance, and a review of options for its future organisation.

The evaluation found that since its establishment, the agency has clearly improved the service it provides and is operating in a more efficient and businesslike way. Applications have increased from 3.3 million in 1991–92 to 3.6 million in 1993–94, but targets for turnaround times have been achieved whilst unit costs have been reduced.

As to the future of the agency, I have concluded that neither privatisation nor full contracting out of the agency's activities is feasible and that passports should continue to be issued by the United Kingdom Passport Agency. But there is scope for further improvements in efficiency and quality of service, and for further reducing unit costs. As part of this process, the private sector needs to become progressively involved in the passport issuing process.

As a first step, the agency is developing plans for partnership with travel agents and other retail outlets so that they, as well as the agency's own offices, will issue and receive completed application forms and fees from the public. The intention is that these arrangements will be in place next year.

The agency is also undertaking a review of the size and location of its offices, which will be completed early next year and will involve private sector consultants. The agency will also look at ways of involving the private sector in the issuing operation after the decision to grant a passport is taken, and in the provision of support services. It is intended to move the agency to trading fund status from April 1996.

The framework document for the agency will be revised to take account of these developments. The agency's key targets for 1994–95 are:

  1. (i) to process properly completed, straightforward applications within a maximum of 20 working days in the periods of peak demand between January and June. 15 working days in July and August, and 10 working days at other times.
  2. (ii) to process such application within an overall average of nine working days for the year as a whole, and
  3. (iii) to reduce unit costs by a further 3.2 per cent. in real terms in comparison with the outturn for 1993–94.

The chief executive will remain directly accountable to me for the performance of the Passport Agency. An advisory board, including two private sector members with experience of delivering services to the public, will continue to provide me with an independent assessment of the agency's performance.