The union representing passport service workers has slammed the planned roll out of automated passport and ID cards processing as it has lead to job cut plans at the Identity and Passport Service agency.

The Public and Commercial Services Union said human processes were being automated, and resources were being “diverted” from passport processing to the introduction of ID cards. The government plans to close a key passport office in Glasgow, and has offered passport staff a below-inflation 2.5 per cent pay rise.

In May, five IT suppliers were selected for the ID cards project. The PCS complains that the pay rise comes at a time when the IPS has spent “nearly £50 million” on consultants.

Some 3,000 staff at the Identity and Passport Service will strike over the next three days. The walk out is expected to heavily disrupt passport processing in the seven key IPS offices in London, Peterborough, Newport, Liverpool, Durham, Glasgow, and Belfast.

Paul McGoay, IPS group president at the PCS union, told CIO sister title Computerworld UK that staff were being cut because IT systems would automate many IPS processes. “The IPS is building and procuring IT kits for passport applications. They only want examination by exception. Simple cases will be processed automatically, more complex cases by people.”

“One of our concerns is that the systems need to be up and running before the IPS can judge staff cuts. We accept change but the concern is that it is managed effectively,” he added. “There have been many IT problems in the public sector and in the IPS.”

Two months ago, the government's ID card advisers criticised Whitehall for failing to "adequately detail the requirements for ICT systems, processes and operations".

Automating processes meant a “de-skilling” of highly trained staff, McGoay said, and the quest for greater efficiency meant “people working longer hours”.

The IPS has also trialled a staff performance management system known as EQA in the last six months, which would lead to excessive pressure on passport workers if fully implemented, McGoay said. “The monitoring is becoming very intensive.”

The government denied that the staff dispute had anything to do with ID cards. “The PCS are saying it’s about ID cards. It’s not,” said a spokesperson at the Home Office.

"IPS will strive to maintain a service to the public and keep any inconvenience to a minimum during the period of the strikes,” an IPS spokesperson said in a statement. Regional office counters will remain open, the IPS said.

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