DEFLECTION seems to be a real speciality of Boris Johnson and some of his senior Cabinet colleagues.

Nothing, it seems, is ever their fault, even when it patently is of course.

However, it was difficult to be anything other than aghast upon hearing reports that Mr Johnson had threatened to privatise the Passport Office, apparently refusing to take an iota of responsibility himself for significant delays in processing applications.

The HM Passport Office board reports directly to the Home Office. The departmental board of the Home Office is chaired by Priti Patel, Secretary of State for the Home Department.

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The Passport Office notes that its management board is “responsible for leading the organisation, monitoring performance and keeping the Home Office board abreast of the business”, adding: “It ensures that we: fulfil the goals set by ministers; can meet future challenges; maintain high standards.”

It is difficult indeed therefore to understand why, in the context of delays to issuing passports, Mr Johnson seems somehow to be pointing the finger at people outside his Government.

The blame for whatever is not working optimally surely lies ultimately with the current UK Government. Even if the issues which have resulted in the current delays go back further than the December 2019 general election, we have had Conservative governments since 2010 so it is difficult to conceive that anyone other than the Tories could be responsible for the current woe.

There is no doubt that delays in issuing passports are causing major problems and stress for people looking to travel again for leisure, and for those having to go abroad for business.

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Passports have of course been a hot topic since Brexit. The Brexit move reduced the validity of the passports of many people who had previously renewed early, with some people only finding out the problem when attempting to travel abroad. This aspect has been a major shambles, and confusion has been ubiquitous amid poor communication from the UK Government.

It would seem, given the current Passport Office delays are being attributed to a backlog arising from a slew of applications following the reopening of overseas travel, that staffing levels should be looked at. The Tories should perhaps have anticipated that there would be a torrent of applications for passport renewals as people were able to travel again. Or maybe they thought their Brexit Britain was such a utopia that fewer people would want to go overseas, opting for a staycation.

Cutting costs has, of course, been a speciality of all the Tory governments we have seen since 2010.

The way to deal with an expected upsurge in passport applications would surely be to recruit and train up staff in advance of this, with the required money budgeted for by the UK Government.

It is not acceptable at all for Mr Johnson to simply point the finger at the Passport Office.

The Public and Commercial Services Union’s take on the whole thing seems far, far more sensible and comprehensible than the Boris Johnson view.

It seems like a simple problem. With a simple solution.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “It is clear to our members that a crucial service like the Passport Office needs to be properly resourced. It is absurd for Boris Johnson to threaten to privatise HMPO, when it is clear that the current problems are mainly down to the casualisation of the workforce.

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“Many people are desperate to now start travelling again, and so I would call on the Home Office to fulfil their duties to the UK public and adequately fund the service, bringing the whole process back in-house.”

The union claimed HM Passport Office had planned to recruit 1,700 people, with around 450 to be in place by the end of 2021, and that “the actual number was closer to 300, and these are agency staff”.

So it appears that it is funding for extra staff, and not privatisation, that is required. And if you had to form a view on whether the PCS or Mr Johnson was closer to the operational issues at the Passport Office, this would not be a mentally taxing task. The union is able to provide specifics, not just some sweeping, opportunistic talk about things not working and privatisation being a possibility.

The last thing that is needed is for money to be bled out of the system – especially at a time of tightened purse strings – by a private contractor making a profit on issuing passports.

And you might have thought Mr Johnson would be keeping quiet about privatisation, given the shambles we have seen in the energy and rail sectors.

More generally, we have also over the years seen some extremely poor delivery of various activities previously provided by the state when private sector operators have been allowed to get their hands on them.

However, it seems almost instinctive for the Tories to salivate over the prospect of privatising services to allow companies to turn a profit on them.

Privatisation of the entire energy sector has certainly not worked out well for consumers, who are now having to deal with massive hikes in their electricity and gas bills. It did not ensure security of supply. And it is certainly not ensuring good value for customers. Amid a raft of collapses of new entrants, the attempts to keep a lid on bills by promoting competition in the energy supply sector lie in tatters.

And there has been a catalogue of trouble from the Tories’ privatisation of the UK rail sector. We saw the collapse of the stock market-listed Railtrack and then, in a more positive development, its replacement as the infrastructure owner and operator with the not-for-profit Network Rail.

On the train operating company franchise front, there have been many problems.

So Mr Johnson, you would think, should not really be banging the drum about privatising this, that or the other thing.

The Tories are, sadly, thumping their tubs loudly on privatisation. The Johnson administration has decided that Channel 4, which has done an excellent job of holding Conservative governments to account since 2010 in its news and current affairs coverage, will be privatised.

Channel 4 declared in April when the UK Government confirmed plans to privatise the broadcaster would go ahead that it was “disappointing” that ministers had made their decision despite “significant public interest concerns” over privatisation.

The planned privatisation is lamentable. However, the move is entirely in keeping with this Government’s penchant for riding roughshod over reasoned public opinion as it pursues its own particular ideology with a big majority.

As with the PCS’s take on the Passport Office, Channel 4’s view on privatisation would seem far more dependable than whatever the ideologically inclined Johnson administration is saying on the issue.

The last thing people in Mr Johnson’s increasingly insular Brexit Britain need is for some private sector operator to be given the keys to the kingdom to issue passports and the usual woes of privatisation to emerge over time.

Responsibility for sorting out the delays lies with the Home Office and with the Johnson administration more generally. Mr Johnson and his Cabinet should get on with sorting this out, instead of carping that it is someone else’s fault.