Passport Problems

The news that the Passport Office at Newport has been singled out for closure will raise some interesting conundrums for whichever office in England is designated to take over its workload.

The Identity and Passport Service (though whether the "identity" part is still valid is now a moot point) has committed itself to provide a Welsh language service, as part of its approved Welsh Language Scheme. We can read it here:

     UK Passport Service Welsh Language Scheme, 2001

It contains the usual features of a WLS for a public body. For example that face-to-face, telephone and written enquiries can be made in Welsh and should be answered in Welsh, and that the standard of service should be as high in Welsh as it is in English; and that information booklets, forms, signage, etc. should be bilingual. This policy was reiterated and extended only in January of this year, as detailed in this guidance note to staff.


Now I have no objection in principle to the IPS closing one of its offices. But it will be very interesting to see how staff in the next nearest Passport Offices to Wales—London and Liverpool—will manage to provide the Welsh language service the IPS has committed itself to provide. It will be even more interesting to see how they meet their commitment to increase the numbers of Welsh-speaking staff they employ.

Interesting, but perhaps not completely impossible.

Let's consider some of the consequences. It will be nice to see fully bilingual signage in both Welsh and English in the London and Liverpool Passport Offices. It will be good to see bilingual recruitment advertising in the English press to try and attract suitable Welsh speakers from the ex-pat population in London and Liverpool ... although they might also do it by offering generous re-location packages for existing Welsh-speaking staff in Newport. They'd have to be generous, because housing in London isn't cheap. I'm sure the language training courses the IPS has committed itself to providing for its staff can be handled by colleges in London such as the City Lit (who already run some very good Welsh courses) and whatever the equivalents in Liverpool might be.

So yes, I suppose it can be done.

But on the other hand, it would almost certainly be a lot easier and cheaper not to single out Wales by closing the Newport office. It's only a suggestion, of course ... made in the interests of saving the ConDem government some money without falling foul of their legal commitments to provide an equal service in both Welsh and English. No government is above the law; but it would be particularly hypocritical for a Tory-led government to fall foul of the legislation on Welsh that they themselves introduced when they were in power before.

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Unknown said...

Will they be thinking about changing the legislation?

Might this move, coming so soon after the relentless attacks on S4C herald a full out onslaught on the Welsh Language, or am I being paranoid?

Anonymous said...

Maybe this is another wake-up call for people who speak Welsh to use the excellent Welsh language service for passports in Newport (+ BT 118404 service and other services).

There's a tradtion of Welsh-speakers being shy of these services, although they're very often very good, are, by definition less dependent on automated voices etc (you actually speak to a real person!) and they're done by people living and working in Wales.

I'd be interested to know how may Welsh-speaking Labour AMs and MPs and councillors and members ever use Welsh services in cash-points, utilities etc. It's be one way of making a small but important step to keep services in Wales ... and whilst there's a service in Welsh, then there's a stronger argument for offering the English langugae service there too!

One way of keeping some services in Wales is increasing the use of Welsh language functions and services. Use the services which are there.

Anonymous said...

... central site with list of Welsh language services, part of the Welsh Lang Board's 'Mae gen ti Ddewis' (you've got a choice) campaign:

Anonymous said...

How about devolving administrative responsibility for issuing passports to the Welsh Government?

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