ON MONDAY of last week, there was no crisis.
Paul Pugh, the chief executive of HM Passport Office, said that his department had dealt with an “exceptional demand” for passports, but maintained that there was no backlog with more than 97 per cent of passport renewal and child applications issued on time.
He said: “There is no backlog, with over 99 per cent of straightforward applications being processed within four weeks.”
Despite MPs Jess Morden and Kevin Brennan saying their constituents had told them of major problems.
But by last weekend, no one was trying to trot out that old line: crisis, what crisis?
By then, there was an admission of a passport application backlog of 30,000, talk of Border Force personnel being drafted in to cover, and questions asked of the Prime Minister in the House of Commons.
And the Coalition are taking this seriously because they know that after almost a decade of their austerity measures, hitting voters’ holiday plans with a backlog won’t play well at the polling booths in next year’s General Election.
Because, make no bones about it, unprecedented demand or not, this backlog has come about because of the Coalition’s cuts to the passport office.
And all of us in Newport know full well what the consequences of that cut has been – a reduced service in our passport office after the cuts this newspaper and local politicians vehemently opposed. Half the jobs it once had. A major blow to the local economy.
There is only so far that public services can be cut before that cut becomes cutting your nose off to spite your face. The slashing of jobs at Newport’s passport office marked that line.
Jessica Morden appealed to the home secretary Theresa May to reverse the cuts to the city’s passport office in the wake of the nationwide application backlog.
She spoke during an urgent question on the issue in the House of Commons last week, saying: “When the government tried to shut Newport passport office a few years ago staff and unions warned at the time that cuts would impact on service, and they have been proved right.
“It would be good if the secretary of state could at least acknowledge that putting the full processing function back into Newport, along with the jobs that we lost, would be a start.
“Could she also acknowledge that it’s not only the customers that are suffering badly at the moment, but also the stress that it is putting on staff in Newport who are under immense pressure because of this government’s incompetency?”
Ms May said it was “absolutely right for the passport office’s point of view that they should look at how they can provide services as efficiently as possible”.
She said demand for the service was “at higher levels than they have been for 12 years.”
You don’t have to be psychic to predict that as the economy finally starts to show signs of growth, people will need a foreign holiday. Lots of them. More than for years because many could not afford it before.
Here’s the thing: there’s efficiency, and then there’s ideology. When cutting and cutting and cutting at public services becomes a dogma, ordinary people will suffer.
I doubt the public will accept the Coalition’s vision of permanent austerity, of decimated public services for ever more. It offends our common sense.
MANY of my generation feel we’ve lost a friend with the death of Rik Mayall.
We grew up with him, as the Redditch-based, Theresa Kelly-obsessed, anorak-wearing “investigative journalist” Kevin Turvey, as the people’s poet in The Young Ones, his scathing political satire as Alan B’Stard, as Lord Flashheart in Blackadder.
The tributes to Mayall have been both touching and genuine.
Mayall’s daughter Bonnie paid tribute to her “generous, foul-mouthed and hysterical father” in a Facebook post.
“My dad was loved not only by my family, but by many many others. We will never forget him and neither will the world.
“RIP to the man, the myth, the legend.
“My idol now and forever. We love you daddy.”
How very fitting was the tribute from comedy partner Adrian Edmondson, who also appeared with Mayall in The Young Ones, Bottom and a stage production of Waiting For Godot.
He said: “There were times when Rik and I were writing together when we almost died laughing.
“And now he’s died for real. Without me. Selfish b******.”
I like to think of him still making us smile, on the last freedom moped out of nowhere.