Small Mercies – Newport’s ‘Passport Office’.

The announcement finally came through this morning as to the fate of Newport’s Passport Office, those employed there, and the extra economic potential drawn from its presence in the city. An announcement waited for by many for longer than was reasonable considering the many lives this decision would affect, was one, that for around 150 people, will bring a sigh of relief, for the others, the expected dismay. The political community in Wales, united in a supporting voice for the Passport Office have been quick to celebrate the news, regarding that which has been maintained, while saying little about that which has been lost.

There should be a sense though, that all is not as rosy as it could be. Job losses seemed inevitable, such is the climate these days, and to save so many is indeed something to be cherished. But the fact that the Office will no longer process passports must surely be a blow. I am still to be convinced of just how legitimately a Passport Office can be described as such, without the capacity to process passport applications. Does Newport and South Wales really need a customer support centre, or does it actually need a centre that can provide passports for the nation? I fear that from an economic point of view, Newport may have been left with a lame duck. Jobs are certainly worth fighting for, but the function of the Office should have been fought for as well, and sadly, this seems to have been lost to Wales.

The logic to this concern resides in observations made during the campaign regarding the wider economic importance of the Office. Offering such a key service meant many were willing to travel into Newport, bringing additional money into the local economy, who otherwise simply wouldn’t. Will those same individuals make their way in to the heart of Newport for a support centre, or will they stay at home and make a call, or enquire online?

On one level the preservation of some jobs is an absolute positive. But the wider context of the changes are symptomatic of a struggle Newport has fought with for many years now. Asked the question, will the Passport Office in its new, limited condition, bring people to Newport? The answer, certainly less than were it to have held on to full processing powers for passport applications. With this change, yet another reason to come to Newport has gone, another attraction that could have directed people to nearby shops, lost. The immediate impact of saving jobs will bring cheers, the longer term impact of passport processing being lost, is something that will haunt Newport in years to come.

Another Welsh city, another Welsh town, systematically reduced from the outside.

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