City of Durham MP warns of 'toxic culture' and 'bullying' at passport office after call out to staff

Mary Kelly Foy MP raised concerns in the House of Commons about allegations of a "toxic culture" at Durham's passport office. Credit: Parliamentary TV/ITV News Tyne Tees

A North East MP has warned of allegations of "toxic working cultures" and "bullying" at Durham's passport office.

Mary Kelly Foy, Labour's City of Durham MP, raised concerns about Her Majesty’s Passport Office during a debate on passport delays in the House of Commons on Tuesday 14 June.

In response to a call out on social media, she said whistleblowers had made her aware of alleged "widespread mismanagement and structural issues" that were slowing attempts to clear a backlog of passport applications at the government department.

"Staff morale is understandably at an all-time low," she added. "Covid outbreaks have led to staff shortages, yet staff are under pressure to return to office working, including alleged bullying tactics from senior officials and poor communication from management.

"Disturbingly, staff have told me they’re too afraid to speak out about their working conditions for fear of disciplinary action."

Ms Foy said one member of staff who contacted her said they had contemplated taking their own life.

She added that other other workers said they been "subject to verbal abuse from the public", while staff had also witnessed a passport applicant's "attempt to self-harm".

Ms Foy's call out on social media followed a request by her to visit the office, which she said was refused.

The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) general secretary said allegations about the passport office was not unique to the region.

Mark Serwotka said: “What’s happening in Durham is a familiar story across the civil service. Our reps are busy dealing with issues of mismanagement, bullying and poor working conditions.

“These issues are exacerbated by the threat of job losses hanging over members, with no regard to members of staff or the people who use the essential services they provide.

"We want to see more civil servants, not less. And we want them to be properly trained, properly paid and properly treated.”

Ms Foy is now calling on the Government to act to tackle the passport application backlog and address the issues she had raised about Durham.

A spokesperson for HM Passport Office said processing passport applications was a priority and would not be possible.

They said: "Our staff in Durham are rightly focused on working tirelessly to resolve applications as quickly as possible, this is our utmost priority.

"Coordinating a visit for an MP would divert vital resource from this work and our staff across HMPO are processing approximately 250,000 passport applications each week with the latest figures show that 98.5% of UK applications have been completed within 10 weeks."

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