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Thursday, 24 July 2014

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Commonwealth Games hopeful urges government to end passport fiasco

A Cumbrian athlete who was caught up in the UK’s passport problems has urged the Government to sort the backlog which has left thousands of families in the lurch.

James Bowness photo
James Bowness

Runner James Bowness, from Egremont, had been trying to make the English 800m team for this year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow but almost had his hopes quashed before he’d even flown out to a qualifying event.

After applying for a new passport in mid-April, James identified a qualifying event in Riga, Latvia, where he could compete, giving him the chance to make the qualification time.

However, his passport did not come in the stated three week turnaround period and he had to pay an extra £55.50 for an upgrade – and travel to Durham personally to collect it.

His case came to light last week in the House of Commons when Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper mentioned James during criticism of the way Home Secretary Theresa May has handled the backlog.

The Passport Office came under fire after a suspected 500,000 holidaymakers and travellers had their summer plans thrown into disarray because of the backlog.

James said: “I wouldn't word it as a dream as such, but I had aspirations of attempting to get there. I guess it did cross my mind that I might be in the physical shape to run the standard but not get the opportunity to do so due to the passport issues.”

Ultimately James received his passport just a few days before travelling but didn’t manage to reach the standard time of 1.46.50 in order to qualify for the English team, and said the Government need to look carefully at the passport crisis.

“The three-week turnaround soon passed so I contacted the passport helpline, which was a waste of time,” he added.

“Little can be done by the individuals, aside from allocating extra time to deal with the structural issue at hand. On a broader political sense there needs to be a critical analysis of where austerity is operating and its effect on public services.

“When you hear claims in the media about a £72 million profit for HMPO last year, combined with a reduction in the number of staff in the previous few years there, needs to be critical discussion on why this is happening.”

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