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Privatisation of the Passport Office could “modernise and improve” services, says IEA expert

Professor Len Shackleton, Research Fellow at free market think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs, commented on reports that government ministers are considering privatising the Passport Office and DVLA 

“The Prime Minister’s threats to privatise the Passport Office and the Driver and Vehicle Licencing Agency (DVLA) are an understandable response to the backlogs and costly frustrations of those dependent on their services.

“The shortage of HGV and bus drivers has been exacerbated by delays in issuing licences, while elderly motorists find that they are no longer allowed to drive as their renewals have been delayed. Meanwhile foreign holidays are jeopardised as passport applications are taking a disproportionate amount of time to process.

“Government websites blame staff unavailability on Covid. Some critics see staff continuing to work from home as a major problem, and certainly the difficulty of contacting a human being seems to increase when offices are empty. Arguably these problems would exist even if the agencies were privatised, presumably on some franchised basis. But although the experience of the railways and other contracted-out services should remind us not to underestimate the difficulties of this type of privatisation, accountability would be clearer and it would be possible to penalise companies which failed to deliver an adequate service.

“More importantly, private businesses would have an incentive to modernise and improve services and to offer alternative ways of accessing them. The shift to privatisation could also be accompanied by thinking through whether or not we need, say, ten-year renewal of passports when unchanging personal characteristics can be digitally encoded, or licence renewals at 70 rather than 75 or even 80.

“Boris Johnson’s threats were an angry response and are unlikely to be carried out any time soon. However the idea of changing the way in which necessary government requirements are dealt with is something which should be further explored, along with ways in which we can reduce unnecessary requirements.”

Notes to editors

Contact: Annabel Denham, Director of Communications, 07540 770 774

IEA spokespeople are available for interview and further comment.

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