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Monday, 31 January, 2000, 23:01 GMT
Passport chaos bill for taxpayer

passport 1999 passport fiasco cost taxpayers 12.6m

The computer company at the centre of last summer's passport chaos is to pay less than a quarter of the compensation costs.

A meeting of the Commons Public Accounts Committee heard the cost of the computer problems which left thousands of holidaymakers queuing for travel documents was 12.6m.

But the most senior Home Office civil servant, Sir David Ormand, told the committee that in negotiations concluded recently, Siemens Business Services, which supplied the new computer system, had agreed to pay 2.45m of the costs.

Labour MP Alan Williams said the representatives of the taxpayer were accepting four times more blame than "the people who made the machines which caused the inefficiency".

'Managerial blunder'

But Sir David said the causes of the problems were complex.

Petty France queue Holidaymakers had to queue for hours
He told the committee: "We could not honestly maintain the situation in negotiations where the entire onus was placed on the IT supplier."

At least 500 holidaymakers missed their departure dates during last year's crisis, which followed problems with a new computer system which left the agency unable to issue passports on time.

The delays were made worse by new legislation requiring children to be issued their own passports.

At the height of the crisis, the backlog of unprocessed passports reached 565,000.

Mr Williams asked whether "heads had rolled" as a result of the "major managerial blunder".

'Complex reasons'

The former chief executive of the Passport Agency, David Gatenby, said: "No, the reasons for the loss of productivity and delays in the service were quite complex."

The hearing came on the same day as a new national call centre in Bristol, designed to help stop a repeat of that chaos, was opened.

It received hundreds of calls in its first hour of opening, a ceremony which was carried out by the present agency chief executive, Bernard Herdan.

Last summer, thousands of holidaymakers had to queue for hours to receive their new passports.

In the end, about 161,000 compensation was paid for travellers who did miss travel dates.

A report by the National Audit Office blamed delays in introducing the new computer system, a contract worth 120m, for the initial problems.

But it also warned that the agency had not drawn up contingency plans to deal with the disaster, and had failed to communicate effectively with members of the public.

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See also:
13 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
ID card fears rejected
27 Oct 99 |  UK Politics
Passport fiasco cost taxpayers 12m
27 Jun 99 |  UK
Pay-outs over passport delays
24 Jun 99 |  UK
Passport pile grows higher

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