Monday, November 07, 2011

Some other ideas we're considering for a reception venue:

a Boat

a Pub Function Room

a Different Community Centre


I read the news

Today folks in the home office are furious to discover that for a brief time document checks on non-EU nationals were relaxed at border control. Staff were reportedly told to examine biometric data at their discretion and to only give people a thorough going-over if they looked dodgy so as to streamline processing, but protocol dictates that each traveller must be thoroughly poked and prodded before being allowed to continue.

As a non-EU national, I naturally have opinions with regard to this.

I've been flying into and out of the UK for years as a foreigner. And you know what? At no time of day have I ever enjoyed a speedy or even efficient jaunt through passport control. Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted all have desks for at least 30 customs officials in a big two-tiered bank at the end of about a half-mile of queue switchbacks. No matter what time of day I've landed, however, I have never seen more than 4 people manning these stations. With an average processing time per passenger of 30 seconds, and an average of 3 planes of 400 passengers each landing at a time, even when you divide the queues into Domestic/EU and "Foreign" you still have about 600 travellers in your queue handled by 2 people, or a wait time of approximately 2.5 hours.

I have done that 2.5 hour trudge so f'ing many times the dread of it has actually put me off travelling.

So when I found out the reason behind most of these streamlining measures was to accommodate for job cuts at UKBA, I found it a little infuriating.

How can you possibly make job cuts when your staff is 0? There has never been anyone there, and now you want fewer?

Okay, maybe not 0. If the big 4 airports have 4 passport inspectors on at a time and they're running 24/7, I'd imagine they have 4 plus a break runner per 8-hour shift (or 15 people) plus part-timers on the weekend, so let's be generous and say 20. So 80 officials in the airports, plus another 20 dotted around at small airports and ferry terminals (oh who am I kidding, I've never seen a customs official at a ferry terminal.) plus the team on the Eurostar. Up to 110 in the entire country.

If they'd like to contest this and say "oh no, there's thousands of people on our payrolls--too many, in fact. We're paying too much!" I would like to very politely ask just what exactly they're all doing. Because they sure as hell aren't processing passports.

You wanna know how hard it is to get to Lewisham from Stansted when your plane gets in at 10pm? If you were able to get off the plane, go through customs, get your bag and leave in the space of twenty minutes like you can in Copenhagen, you could get a coach to Stratford Station in the space of about an hour and hop on the Jubilee line to London Bridge. By this point it's about 11:45, so there's a couple more Southeastern trains running toward your home (10 minutes) and if you have bags you could still grab a local bus from the town centre. Home by 12:30. Not too bad.

But no. When your plane arrives at Stansted and you have to queue for two hours at passport control, you come out and discover the coach service is partly suspended after midnight and the next one won't be around for another hour. So you get the coach as far into town as it will take you, which is still on the extreme north side of London, and at 2am you manage to find a night bus that takes you to a station where you can get another night bus to a third night bus which gets you somewhat near your town, allowing you to walk the last two miles home dragging your suitcase. Home by dawn with a blown-out knee and influenza.

Or you could pay £150 for a taxi and be home by 3am.

Note that I use the word "home." Home by dawn for someone who knows how to get around and already has an Oyster card. Think of the tourists.

But this isn't about how crappy London's public transit system is, or how it is run for use in 1954. Nor is it about how ridiculous it is that London businesses are only open when their customers are also at work. And for once this isn't about how it is patently obscene that pubs close at 11 on Saturdays and you can't find a pint for less than £3.50.  This is about the fact that there's not enough people working at passport control, and now they've decided to fire half of them.

WHY is it that when the people stand up and demand that their government becomes more efficient with their tax money, rather than stopping paying for pointless vanity projects, moat dredging on their personal property, private cars and jets, and funding the "privately run" transportation industry, they instead CUT FRONT LINE WORKERS LIKE CUSTOMS OFFICIALS AND NURSES?

What arrogant bastard thinks cutting the people who actually get anything done is the smart way to save money? You know how long people have to wait for treatment at hospitals? It's not because there's not enough beds, examining rooms, operating theatres or equipment. There's not enough practitioners. You know how long people have to wait to buy stamps? There's nothing wrong with their stocks of stamps or the scales or trucks or mailbags. There's only one postal worker at counter with positions for 11.

The university system here is churning out hundreds of thousands of qualified graduates every year who just want to work. State-run services have room to expand.  Indeed, there's desk space gathering dust for over 400 people in the airport passport control sector alone, more if people worked part-time.

Rather than expanding the state's middle--the paperwork-creator and paperwork-avoider cycle that always manages to occupy most of our nation's unproductive time and employment, why not cut most of that and focus on the workers--you know, the people who do things. Pay front-line employees a living wage to do a good job. Fill up the desks at passport control. Have nurses and techs available to handle minor injuries at A&E, and please pay my dustbin team and their truck maintenance crew enough to make it worth it to come to work when it's cold this winter.

We pay our taxes not so you can bicker about new laws or start new wars, but so that we can have services and systems in place that keep our society running smoothly. We need our bin-men, our nurses and pharmacists, our maintenance technicians and plumbers and teachers and dammit our passport inspectors more than you need so much as a taxi in central London. Calling all MPs: no one recognizes you. Take the bloody train and give us our workers back.