Photographers lobby PM over ID ‘Doomsday’ fears

June 20, 2012

Campaigners present their petition to 10 Downing Street this afternoon

Organisers of the ‘Save the Photographers’ campaign garnered 16,000 signatures from people who fear jobs will be lost from businesses that produce traditional printed ID photos for documents such as driving licences.

Currently, the DVLA accepts either a printed photo or a digital image for driving licences.

However, campaigners warn that a decision by the previous government, allowing 750 Post Offices to capture photos digitally since November 2010, threatens photographers and high-street providers of printed ID photos such as Snappy Snaps.

The digital images are transmitted directly from the Post Office branch to the DVLA’s database.

Campaigners are calling for other UK Post Offices to be kitted out with handheld digital scanners – ensuring continued demand for printed photos from photographers and businesses such as photo booth supplier Photo-Me.

There are around 12,000 Post Office branches in the UK.

Campaigners say that each scanner costs £650, far cheaper than installing one of the Post Office’s new Cogent digital photo machines which each carry a ‘£56,000′ pricetag.

Furthermore, they caution that the future
could see the Identity and Passport Service pointing passport
applicants to the Post Office, again bypassing the printed option and
escalating the threat to private businesses.

‘The DVLA highlights the online process in its application materials
and unashamedly steers the applicant towards the digital option over
postal, thus negating the need for printed ID pictures.’

Campaigners’ fears were raised further when the Government recently announced a tender for a ‘one-stop shop’, with the Post Office in the frame as a likely supplier.

DVLA concedes that the Post Office system enables it to share the
digital images, plus biometric data such as facial features, with the
Identity and Passport Service.

The campaign is backed by the Photo Marketing Association (PMA), a UK trade body and an Early Day Motion filed by Labour MP Austin Mitchell last year.

Photo-Me’s chief operating officer Olivier Gimpel, who kicked off the campaign, insists that the digital scanners could be funded by the photo industry.

Speaking to Amateur Photographer outside 10 Downing Street, Gimpel warned of the potential impact on UK industry if the Government ignores the campaign’s proposals.

‘It would be absolutely deadly for the photo booth industry and extremely damaging to the photographic industry, and to photographers,’ said Gimpel.

‘I am not sure we would even keep one [photo booth]. It would mean I have to get the company down from 300, to 30 in the UK.’

He estimates that Post Office machines ‘have taken away 1.5 million opportunities of sale’ – in a market where 8m such pictures were captured last year.

‘For some it is 50-60% of their income – for photo booths its 100%… It would really be Doomsday. That’s why I am fighting this so hard.’

The industry claims that the financial impact of government agencies recommending the online option puts 350 high-street photographic shops and 5,000 jobs at risk.

The DVLA admits that its forms and leaflets advise
applicants to use the Post Office option, but points out that printed
photos are still accepted.

A DVLA spokesman told AP: ‘We encourage people to go into Post Offices. It’s our preferred channel… It’s much cheaper for us.’

Gimpel added: ‘It has already had an impact – I am having to reduce my staff as a result of shareholder pressure.’

Though Photo-Me has not yet been forced to close any booths, Gimpel explained that the firm has already had to shed workers because the falling demand for pictures means each booth requires less servicing.

Though reluctant to discuss numbers, Gimpel indicated that Photo-Me has had to cut up to 20-30 staff in the UK to ‘keep afloat’.

The campaigners argue that their proposals will also benefit the customer, because the current Post Offices machines are only installed in larger branches, leaving people in small, remote villages without access to official passport-style pictures.

Gimpel is optimistic that the campaign will achieve results – particularly given active support from Jessops whose staff handed out more than half of the petitions.

The campaigners plight has also won backing from politicians, including Conservative MP Sir Paul Beresford who attended the handing over of the petition in Downing Street this afternoon.

‘We fought a similar campaign in France and we won,’ added Gimpel.

During a House of Commons debate, in February, Transport Minister Mike Penning said the Government has no intention of stopping people choosing a printed image.

‘It comes down to cost,’ said Penning. ‘There are enormous savings for the DVLA if the photograph can be captured and transported (sic) electronically on to the system immediately and in the most cost-efficient way.’

Penning claimed that the Post Office system also cuts the risk of fraudulent driving licence applications, a point disputed by campaigners.

A PMA spokesman said: ‘All our members are supportive of security improvements and have therefore invested in technology to ensure conformity with ICAO [International Civil Aviation Organization] biometric requirements.’

Campaigners – who say they have also won backing from London Mayor Boris Johnson – are due to hold talks with the DVLA next month.

‘The PMA believes that a pragmatic, cost-effective solution is possible through a greater co-existence between the Post Office and the private sector printed photographic network’, added an industry spokesman.

‘In terms of revenue, this decision represents a loss of over £50m to the industry.’

 [Pictures: C Cheesman]

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