Norwich passport office faces axe
Youngsters applying for their first passports could be forced to travel five hours for a 10-minute interview if proposals to shut passports offices in Norfolk go ahead, an MP has warned.
Passport interview offices in Norwich, King's Lynn and Ipswich, where first-time passport applicants go for interviews to verify their identity, were set up to stop fraud.
But, with government departments ordered by the coalition government to slash funding, the Identity and Passport Service (IPS) - an agency of the Home Office - intends to close 34 offices as part of a restructuring programme.
The Norwich one, at St Crispin's House in St George's Street and the King's Lynn one in Vancouver House, County Court Road would be among them.
A 'flexible interview team' would instead be based in Norwich, but city MP Simon Wright, who recently visited the Norwich office, called on the Identity and Passport Service to think again.
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He said the Norwich team, reduced from seven staff working four days a week to a two-day week with two part-time staff, would not be able to cope with the demand and could lead to city people having to travel as far as Peterborough or Chelmsford for their interview.
He has written to Sarah Rapson, chief executive of the IPS and immigration minister Damian Green, who will taken the final decision next month.
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Mr Wright said; 'There will be a significant drop in the capacity for passport interviews in East Anglia, and will result in many customers having to travel to Peterborough or Chelmsford. For some people in Norfolk, this could be a five-hour round trip for a ten-minute interview.
'This would be very frustrating for anyone, but nigh on impossible for those with mobility or other special needs.
'I did note from my visit that there is excess capacity in Norwich, and that there is potential for savings to be made by scaling back the operation.
'However, the proposal from the passport service goes beyond what is reasonable, and will leave East Anglia under-served compared with much of the country.
'I have written to the chief executive to ask for her to reconsider the proposals for Norwich, and instead seek a level of service that would be appropriate for the demand and which takes into account the difficulty of travelling long distances in rural areas.'
A spokesman for the IPS said: 'The formal consultation on the proposed closure and relocation of Interview Offices ended on January 18.
'The consultation process was undertaken to determine how best that IPS can remove excess capacity within the Interview Office Network whilst maintaining the high standards of service to the public and where possible, avoiding compulsory redundancies.
'The responses to the consultation are currently under consideration and ministers will be making a final decision shortly.'
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