The situation prior to the implementation of
the new computer system
The agency employed around 1800 staff in passport offices at Belfast, Glasgow, Liverpool, London, Newport and Peterborough. London also housed the headquarters. The agency’s main aim was to provide passport services for British nationals in the United Kingdom promptly and economically. Included in its targets were:
■ to maintain a maximum processing time of 10 working days throughout the year for straightforward, properly completed
■ to meet customers’ declared travel dates for at least 99.99 per cent of passports issued
■ to recover the full cost of the passport service.
Since its creation in 1991 the agency had dealt with a steady increase in the number of passport applications. In the last year before the computer system was introduced the figure was around 4.9 million, a slight fall from the previous year’s 5.1 million. The agency’s annual forecasts of demand were reasonably accurate. The forecast for the first year of the computer system estimated demand at 5.1 million. However, shorter-term forecasts of monthly demand were not so accurate. For example, monthly variances of actual demand against that forecast averaged nearly 30 000 applications during a sample period.
There was always a backlog of applications, which rose during the busy period. The backlog varied from its lowest point of around 80 000 applications in December to its highest peak of nearly 300 000 in June. Capacity was increased by overtime working and recruiting casual staff. The maximum processing times had steadily increased, and in the last two years the agency’s target of 10 days had been breached. In July the maximum processing time reached a record high of 18 days.
The most recent annual figures showed that full costs were £93.6 million and income was £89.6 million, leading to a shortfall of £4 million. Since 1991, the unit cost of processing a passport had fallen by over 26 per cent in real terms, from £13.74 to £10.14.
The plan to introduce a new computer system
The agency completed a review of its passport process and concluded that: ■ the existing procedures and equipment were outdated
■ secure procedures and better technology, including digital photography, were needed to reduce the scope for fraud.
The agency decided that it would raise two private finance contracts. One contract would be for a new computer system to deal with the initial processing of applications. The second would outsource the digital printing and despatch of new passports from a central site. Only examining and authorizing passports would continue as an in-house function. This decision was based upon an analysis of the various options on volumes ranging from 3.5 to 4.7 million. The agency was strongly influenced by the attractiveness of transferring responsibility to the private sector for areas such as system design and implementation, maintaining service levels, responding to changes in the volume of applications and providing technological updates.
The plan was to roll out the new computer system to the various offices over a five-month period covering the low demand months between October and February. To ensure that it could tackle the usual seasonal rise in applications the agency planned to start implementation at its largest offices (Liverpool, Newport and Peterborough). Liverpool would go live at the beginning of October. The roll-out to the other offices would take place once Liverpool achieved its normal output under the old system, i.e. 30 000 issues per week. This would be achieved within six weeks. Siemens obtained the contract to provide initial processing and the new computer system. The final printing and despatch contract was awarded to Security Printing and Systems Ltd. This contract guaranteed the supply of a minimum volume of two million new passports a year to Security Printing and Systems Ltd. Failure to achieve...