Episode 6 Birth of the £23 passport
Nothing has changed. There has been a general election but still the scene is the office of Sir David Normington KCB, still Permanent Secretary at the Home Office. No less than seven private secretaries are still beavering away at their desks in Sir Davids office, answering telephones, passing messages to him which he responds to in a whisper, while he signs letters and corrects memos all the while. The office is a picture of efficiency and power. The power of an annual budget of £11 billion. Nothing has changed. Or has it?
Sir David is sipping from a glass of water when the blue and orange light on Jasper's console flashes, Jasper speaks into the handset, and then ...
jazza: Kitten wants to see you Sir David.
jazza: The Home Secretary, Sir David. On account of the heels.
dn: Oh I see, very funny I'm sure. Good timing, as it happens. Hand me that sheaf of statutory instruments, Jasper, I'll get the Minister to sign them while I'm in there.
Sir David marches towards the Home Secretary's office and bumps into the Immigration Minister coming out, also with a sheaf of papers. They nod frostily and Sir David goes in.
tm: (The Home Secretary is holding a hand mirror at arm's length to see how her sombrero looks at various angles) Hello David, come in, with you in a mo ... there ... what do you think?
dn: Very fetching. You wanted to see me, Home Secretary.
tm: Did I? God it's been a long year. Can't wait for the hols. Been packing like mad. All those red boxes over there. And the diplomatic bags. But I can't remember for the life of me why I called for you. Um ...
dn: Well perhaps while I'm here, Home Secretary, you would just initial this authorisation and I'll get one of the junior ministers to sign a few statutory instruments while you're away. Just routine stuff but that way you can relax and be sure that work is progressing during your richly deserved vacation ... (he puts a piece of paper on her desk for signature, next to the road map of Italy, and proffers a pen ...)
tm: Do you know, there don't seem to be any motorways to the Amalfi Coast?
dn: No, Home Secretary, it is traditional to approach it by ship.
tm: Hmm ... not a bad idea, thank you, I'll see if Liam can lend me a frigate or something ... Only joking! No need to look so serious, silly! Now what's all this fatuous instruments stuff about?
dn: The decision has been taken to designate home insurance policies.
tm: I don't remember taking any such decision, David, what are you talking about? I know this is the Home Office but we're not a bunch of insurance brokers, you know.
dn: Quite, Minister, of course, but this is a matter of national security. We want to make it the case, we want to bring it about such that, wherever a householder should make a proposal for buildings and contents insurance, then, be he or she whomsoever, that householder aforesaid should as a direct result and with the force of law, civil but not criminal, to avoid martyrs, apply for a passport or prove that he or she already has a valid passport, a point to be established by use of the Passport Validation Service so sadly not available to the former Attorney General but now all revved up and ready to go.
tm: In other words piffle. Obviously I'm not the only one who needs a holiday ... And don't you look at me like that, young David, you're not dealing with Jacqui Smith now. Just stick your instruments in that red box over there, under the Julian Barneses, he's awfully good, don't you think, I love him, and I'll read them on holiday. Maybe. And while you're at it, could you put this map in the Beales bag over there, thank you (hands him the Italian road map and reveals a piece of paper previously lost under it). Oh look! That's why I asked to see you. This, David, is a little to-do list that yummy Alan Johnson left for me. "Section 37 question mark," it says. What does he mean?
dn: Section 37 of the Identity Cards Act 2006 requires the Home Office to produce a 10-year forecast of the costs associated with the National Identity Service every six months.
tm: And when was the last Section 37 report due, David? March or April this year. That's when. And did you produce one? No. Here we are four months later, and presumably breaking the law. Why didn't you produce the latest cost report?
dn: We don't publish the report if Parliament isn't sitting and, in the run-up to the election, Home Secretary the election which so providentially delivered you to us Parliament wasn't sitting. Since then, of course, we have had the Identity Documents Bill. The Identity Cards Act is likely to be repealed as a result and it hardly seemed a sensible use of resources to go through the Herculean process of costing a dead system.
tm: Streuth, David, the desperadoes round at DEFRA might try that on but I really don't think the Home Office can stand up in court and say "we decided to ignore the law, your Honour, because it would cost too much otherwise, if you know what I mean, nudge, nudge, and just be a waste of money and no mistake". What dodgy cost figure, by the way, is Hercules going to report this time? The usual £6 billion?
dn: £5 billion, Home Secretary. If you remember, we decided to outsource the collection of biometrics, thereby saving passport-holders and ID card-holders £1 billion.
tm: Yes I know you got the court-martialled Admiral and simple sailor Lord West of Spithead to fall for that one, but if you think about it, it isn't a saving at all, is it, the punters still have to pay to register their biometrics, it's just that they pay Boots the chemists and not the Identity & Passport Service for the privilege. What's more, you never got Boots to sign up, did you, they'd have to be potty and they're not. So, six billion it is. Except that now there aren't going to be any ID cards and there aren't going to be 2,000 registration centres because people aren't going to have to attend an interview to apply for a passport.
dn: That hasn't been decided yet.
tm: I've just decided it. Together with my esteemed coalition partners. There aren't going to be 2,000 registration centres and we're not going to collect everyone's fingerprints and there isn't going to be a National Identity Register. All of which points to some major savings. How much are we going to save, David?
dn: As it happens, Home Secretary, we've got KPMG working on just that question at the moment and the early indications from their assignment are that surprisingly little will be saved.
tm: The previous administration always claimed that about 70 percent of the costs of the National Identity Service were attributable to passports. So surely we should save at least 30 percent?
dn: I fear that savings of that order are simply not available, ma'am.
tm: You mean the 70 percent figure was false? Surely not! No, no, David, I'm very worried about inflation, we've got to get the price of a passport down. They only cost £18 when Labour came to power 13 years ago and now it's £77.50. More than four times as much! The price is out of control ...
dn: ... the price correctly reflects the enhanced security features and the operational procedures required ...
tm: ... features and procedures that are no longer needed, David, they don't even work, and what's more, the department has been knee-deep in consultants for 30 years now PA Consulting, Atos Origin, and such like and they must have come up with some efficiencies by now?
dn: Of course, Home Secretary, we run a tight ship here, no passengers, a lean machine, agile, ...
tm: Say, 10 percent efficiency improvements?
dn: Um ... er ... that might be a little high ...
tm: David. RPI inflation between May 1997 and May 2010 was 42.5 percent according to my slide rule and that turns £18 into £25.65, I'm sure you'll agree. And 10 percent off that in respect of efficiencies all thanks to the excellent value for money of those squadrons of management consultants you retain takes the figure down to about £23. I want a £23 passport. The coalition wants a £23 passport. We don't have to pay for ID cards and all the other rubbish any more, my globe-trotting parishioners will expect to see that reflected in the price of a 10-year adult passport and I cannot possibly disappoint them.
dn: Minister, this is a tremendous idea, radical and heart-warming, dynamic and populist in the best sense but there are proper channels to go through, committees, the Home Office Scientific Development Branch, the effects on the UK Border Agency need to be considered, the National Policing Improvement Agency, our contractors, IBM and CSC and Sagem Sécurité, and the lawyers, not to mention the marketing men, Saatchis and BBDO, I look forward to steering this suggestion of yours energetically through the system, of course, and hope to report back to you with recommendations in a month or two ...
tm: Have to be a bit quicker than that, David. As you came in, Damian was just off to put the £23 passport news on the wires. The press release must have gone out by now.
dn: Oh Lord. Um ... Home Secretary ... what can I say?
tm: Checkmate? Job done? Bon voyage? I need this holiday, David. And when I'm back, you and I, we'll get down to some real work, eh? (She begins to sing, perhaps half a tone sharp, but no more, as she goes back to trying out her sombrero and Sir David is dismissed) O sole mio ...
* John Vine is Independent Chief Inspector of the UK Border Agency
David Moss has spent seven years campaigning against the Home Office's ID card scheme.