Monday, 11 October 2010

Passport to where

The proposal to close the Newport Passport Office is a serious blow to jobs in that part of Wales. It would also, as a number of others have already pointed out, leave Wales without a passport office, and see all Welsh passport applications – including those submitted in Welsh – dealt with outside Wales.

An element of ‘special pleading’ on behalf of Wales is probably inevitable in a situation like this, but it leaves me a little uncomfortable. Not because I don’t think that Wales is, or should be, a special case, nor because I don’t want us to retain the passport office and the jobs going with it.

There is a danger, though, that ‘special pleading’ ends up sounding rather like ‘cut their jobs not ours’. And I’m not sure that an approach which starts to pit office against office is one which is in our own best long term interests.

I’m much more comfortable with an approach which asks why the cut is necessary at all. Are there really 300 people in the Passport service who are simply doing nothing? I find that hard to believe – so what’s the effect of cutting 300 jobs? Does it mean a reduced service - delays, backlogs?

One of the things which most concerns me about the programme of spending cuts is the extent to which it appears that most people are broadly supportive of cuts as long as they affect someone else. It’s a trap into which we should be wary of falling.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good points John.

Macsen

Welsh Ramblings said...

For me the 'special case' comes from the fact that Wales is a nation. The PCS response appears to recognise this, a mentality which (i'm sure would ring true in your dealings John) would be unheard of from the Labour-establishment trade unions.

I would accept that it is not principled to oppose this cut purely on the basis that it is in our backyard- opponents of the closure have to raise the nationalist point that we are a nation and require a passport office, otherwise it is just pitting one office against another.

Peter Freeman said...

These are very good points John and I totally agree. Cutting the Newport office would not only affect Wales but would surely lead to delays in processing applications in Liverpool and London.
The other point is equally valid and I hope that the Assmbly government is eager to make it; that cutting Newport can only make sense to a government that sees the UK as a unity and does not view Wales as anything desrving of federal, let alone national status

Jeff Jones said...

Well said John. The cuts agenda affects everone who lives in the UK. Wales the 'victim' is not going to win any argument. To argue that the closure is somehow 'anti Welsh ' or 'we are the only European country without a passport office ' will result in laughter in Whitehall.I would like to see the arguments that led the Home Office to conclude that the UK had one passport office too many and led sebior civil servants conclude that Newport should close. There is a need to produce a logical argument that the cuts are too large and being introduced at too fast a pace. But to do that you have not only to acknowledge that there have to be cuts but also suggest where those cuts should come from. It also isn't any good producing the knee jerk answer of cut Trident as the solution to everything when the bulk of the expenditure is after 2016. Now cutting the second aircraft carrier might help but that would be opposed by the SNP who have got themselves in an awful mess of wanting independence whilst arguing for capital ships for the UK navy! What the proposed closure of the Passport Office does show is that when the cuts do come people lose their jobs and services are reduced. Politicians in power and that includes Plaid in the Assembly have some difficult decisions to make. Blaming it all on the UK government might make you feel better and could even bring dividends at the ballot box although with some Labour politicians adopting a more Nationalist approach it will be interesting to see how it all pans out. What the rhetoric of fighting the cuts wouldn't do is make finding a solution to less money any easier.

Royston Jones said...

The fact is that passport offices in England will remain open as, more significantly, will those in Scotland and Northern Ireland. So why is Newport the office chosen to close? Simple, because our masters in London expect less resistance from us.

Due in no small part to those belonging to the Kinnock wing of 'Welsh' Labour, the George Thomas wing of 'Welsh' Labour, who will accept kick after kick in the goolies just to avoid appearing 'nationalist'.

This proposal to close the Newport passport office may not be 'anti-Welsh' but sometimes, when it barks, bites and cocks its leg up it might be worth considering the possibility that what confronts you is a dog.

John Dixon said...

Jeff,

I agree that referring to Trident and aircraft carriers is an inadequate response in economic terms (although it does have some value in more political terms as being a short-hand way of highlighting some different moral, as well as spending priorities).

And I'm also concerned that 'fight the cuts' is over-simplistic sloganising rather than a serious political programme. I do believe that there is an alternative approach to rapid deep cuts, however (which is not the same as arguing for running such a large deficit indefinitely). Sadly, that case is not being put, because a) sloganising is easier, and b) it's a difficult and complex argument to get across through a media which likes black and white (and that isn't just a gratuitous side-swipe at the media).

It's also sad, from my perspective, because, on the specific issue of spending cuts, it is increasingly difficult to distinguish between the Labour position and the Plaid position. I don't think that's because, as you suggest, some Labour politicians are increasingly adopting a nationalist position so much as because Plaid are finding it difficult to find an unique message in a debate which is basically being seen as a UK rather than Welsh debate.

Some chickens may, or may not, come home to roost after the CSR, of course, when the Welsh Government has to trim its own budget to suit the cloth with which it will be supplied. Rightly or wrongly, I suspect we'll get little serious public Welsh debate in advance of that point, which means that a lot of what is being said by all parties at Assembly level owes more to political positioning than economics.

John Dixon said...

Royston,

"So why is Newport the office chosen to close? Simple, because our masters in London expect less resistance from us."

I'd really like to believe that they were as calculating, cunning, and downright anti-Welsh as that suggests. I rather suspect, however, that the Welsh angle just hasn't entered their heads. I'd really like to know - as Jeff said above - how they've arrived at their conclusions that Newport should close, or that they can just cut 300 jobs with no effect, but I doubt that it is as simple as you suggest.

Royston Jones said...

There may well be cogent and persuasive reasons for closing the Newport passport office rather than any of the others. If so, maybe those who took the decision will tell us those reasons.

But even if such reasons exist, it still means that, 11 years into devolved government, Wales will now be 'served' from an office in England. Making this decision retrograde.

From where I'm standing it don't say much for devolution or our AMs, who were neither consulted nor informed . . . just totally ignored.

alanindyfed said...

It wouldn't be a bad idea to turn the Passport Office into a Welsh Passport Office issuing Welsh passports, even biometric ones. I have seen actual Welsh passports which my friend Geoff Evans successfully used for a trip to Brittany some years ago!

John Dixon said...

Royston,

"From where I'm standing it don't say much for devolution or our AMs, who were neither consulted nor informed . . . just totally ignored. "

Indeed. And that's precisely why we should never allow ourselves to think that devolution is the same as, or an inevitable road to, independence. It isn't. From a London perspective, consulting the Assembly about a function such as the passport office would be not unlike consulting a county council about defence policy - they just wouldn't see the need or relevance. Sometimes we imbue the Assembly with rather more status than we should.

Royston Jones said...

Yes, Alan, I also remember the Cyfamodwyr passports. Though I can't see that shower down in Cardiff docks ever going for it.

But what about the postal service? It is to be privatised so why not a Welsh postal service? It could not be less efficient than the current service and it would provide more jobs because north Wales mail goes to Chester to be sorted and mid Wales mail to Shrewsbury.

Even if it proved impossible just to hear it mooted in our Assembly would suggest that the AMs are at least awake, and thinking about ways to make Wales a better country.

It's the frightening silence; the total lack of imagination and initiative from our AMs that really has turned me against devolution.