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Carole Walker reports for BBC News
"The outdated system couldn't cope with demand"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 7 December, 1999, 10:07 GMT
'Scrooge lives on at the Home Office'

Shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe has renewed her attacks on the government over the increase in the cost of a passport.

The Home Secretary, Jack Straw, announced on Monday the cost of an adult passport is to rise by a third to 28 and the price of a child's passport will also go up from 11 to 14.80 from 16 December.

Hundreds of people had to queue for their passports in the summer
The increase is to fund a major overhaul of the Passport Agency following the crisis during the summer when it was dealing a backlog of 500,000 applications caused by the introduction of a new computer system and legislation that required children to have their own documents.

In October, a report by the National Audit Office, suggested the cost of the problems would be about 12.6m.

On Monday, Mr Straw said that cost would be met be efficiency savings.

But he went on to announce a serious of measures to be funded by a 25m annual investment in the service, including opening a new office in Durham and a call centre in Bristol, which required an increase in the passport fee.

Passport fees
France 74
USA 34.50
UK 28
Germany 16.20
In Parliament, Miss Widdecombe had said the price increases were in "in the spirit of Ebenezer Scrooge".

Speaking to the BBC on Tuesday, the shadow home secretary stood by her remarks: "I think it's a pretty good summary.

"First of all, last summer, you couldn't get a passport, people missed holidays, people missed business appointments, even those who did get their passports sometimes had to make repeat visits, in other instances had to queue for hours and hours in the rain."

Miss Widdecombe also rejected a suggestion that the cost of a UK passport was low compared to the price in other countries.

Changes to the Passport Agency
A new office will be opened in Durham
A call centre will be opened in Bristol
The Peterborough office will be expanded
Agency to issue up to 1.3m passports a year
Two week turnaround time at any time of the year
London office to relocate to Victoria in 2001
Renovation of public counters and forms redesigned
Offices to open earlier, close later and open Saturdays
She said: "The comparison isn't with other democracies, the comparison is with what it was costing the British passport holder, which was 21.

"It has now, in one fell swoop, gone up to 28, by December 16.

"It's no good Jack Straw saying this is nothing to do with last summer's crisis, because if in fact he hadn't had that crisis, then the efficiency savings which he says are going to pay for it could have been put towards offsetting the rise in the cost of a passport."

Mr Straw has apologised for the rise in cost to MPs saying it was "the minimum necessary to ensure that the crucial service improvements" were met.

But Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes told him the public was effectively facing a one third hike in the cost of a passport.

He said: "It is not going to be a Christmas present for people to look forward to - has there ever been such a great increase ever announced in the history of passport charges imposed by government?"

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See also:
27 Jun 99 |  UK
Pay-outs over passport delays
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Passport crisis under control - Prescott
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Passport misery for thousands
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Post offices to extend passports
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Demand for Irish passport service
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First pet passport issued
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What's up with the Home Office?

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