SO WHERE IS THE RESPECT? Furious First Minister hits out at 'sham' plan to close our only Passport Office.
FIRST Minister Carwyn Jones yesterday responded with fury to government plans to shut Wales' only passport office.
He branded the move, which would see 300 jobs lost at the Newport base, "unacceptable" and hit out at the lack of warning given to the Assembly Government.
And, in an uncompromising series of comments, he also described the consultation process as a "sham" and hit out at the unfairness of leaving Wales the only European nation without its own passport office.
On Friday, union leaders revealed the centre was set to become the first major Welsh casualty of the coalition Government's spending cuts.
A clearly angry Mr Jones yesterday said: "The Assembly Government received no advance warning of this announcement.
Back in May, the UK Government promised a 'respect agenda' in terms of their relationship with us, yetwe were not informed of this decision beforehand.
"In addition to the serious impact of job losses on the localeconomy, if this closure goes ahead, it willmeanWales will be the only part of the UK without a Passport Office. People will be entitled to ask: what has Wales done to deserve this treatment? "It is totally unacceptable that people from Wales should be expected to travel to either London or Peterborough to access passport services.
"That iswhy I will be raising this matter with the Prime Minister as a matter of urgency, to ask why Wales appears to have been singled out in this manner."
Mr Jones also demanded to know how muchWelsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan had known of the decision in advance.
"I will also want to know when the Wales Office were informed of this decision and how they now intend to fight Wales' corner within the UK Government, to stop this closure from going ahead," he added.
"Workers can be assured, however, they will have the full support of the Assembly Government in the fight to save their jobs and retain this Passport Office for the people ofWales."
News of the proposal was only made public by union leaders, while the Identity and Passport Service (IPS) initially denied that an official announcement would be made on Friday.
It later released a statement confirming it would be consulting on the closure.
Mrs Gillan last night condemned the union leak but said she would be holding high-level discussions on the future of the passport office this week.
"I have been in discussions with ministerial colleagues at the Home Office since being made aware of the IPS proposals for Newport," she said.
"I met with Home Secretary Theresa May on Friday night and impressed on her the impact of the closure on the workforce and the economy of Newport. Our discussions are due to resume next week.
"In the meantime, it is important to remember that the consultation process has not yet begun and no final decision has yet been reached on the future of the office."
Critics have noted with a bitter irony that the news comes just aweek after the world's attention was focused on the city as it hosted golf's RyderCup, andsaid the job losses would have a devastating impact on the local economy.
Mark Serwotka, the Aberdare-born general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, said: "The Identity and Passport Service is playing fast and loose with the security of the British passport by putting cuts before the needs of the public.
"Not only will this increase the risk of fraud, the Newport closure represents an attack on an area of theUKeconomy that is crying out for investment, not cuts.
"These closures will lead to mass job losses at a time of rising unemployment, and we will do everything we can to reverse this outrageous decision."
Mr Serwotka also criticised the Welsh Secretary for attacking the PCS's decision to reveal the news.
He added: "How dare Cheryl Gillan criticise PCS for what happened on Friday.
Sheshouldbein theCabinet fighting to protect jobs in Wales. Only two days before this idiotic announcement shewas telling the Conservative Conference that the Ryder Cup had put Newport on the map. Yet at that time she must have known the UK Government was going to close the Passport Office. She has taken Newport off the map and if the Home Office get their way will leave Wales without a Passport Office. It is shameful."
Shadow Welsh secretary Peter Hain said: "I am extremely angry at the decision to close the Passport Office in Newport.
It is frankly an absolute disgrace and a devastating blow to Newport so soon after last week's Ryder Cup success.
"These job losses will have a huge impact on the local economy, with people in Wales now facing a journey of hundreds of miles to London or Liverpool for face-to-face service at the Passport Office."
He added: "The economy is still fragile; we need support and investment from Government aimed at securing growth, not these savage cuts to public services being imposed on Wales by the Tories and Lib Dems."
Wales' MEP Derek Vaughn joined in the condemnation.Hesaid:"Thesingling out of the Newport office for closure, seemingly ignoring the needs of users in Wales and leaving us with a level of provision far behind the rest of the UK, sets a dangerous precedent for things to come. I am fearful that this is only the thin end of the wedge.
"Wales will now be the only European country without a single, proper Passport Office. People from Wales will now be forced to travel all the way to either London or Liverpool to get the level of face-to-face service that they deserve. This is clearly unacceptable."
'UNACCEPTABLE': Carwyn Jones has attacked coalition plans to axe Newport's Passport Office