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Consular news – Embassy 47

No more nannying, says FCO consular chief

The UK consular service will take a hands-off approach to non-urgent inquiries and concentrate resources on urgent cases and emergencies, the FCO Director of Consular Affairs said at a meeting of Consular Corps of London.

Unveiling the UK Consular Strategy for 2013-16, Mr Charles Hay told consuls the FCO was rolling out a system of Contact Centres that would filter out non-urgent requests and visa inquiries so that frontline staff could focus on cases with the most need.

A successful pilot Contact Centre, which opened in Malaga in February 2011, revealed that 39 percent of the 131 211 calls it had received were “lifestyle enquiries”.

Only 10 per cent of calls were about consular assistance which were then escalated to frontline consular staff.

The FCO will roll out the system globally with four contact centres, in Ottawa, Dubai, Hong Kong and Malaga and between them they will handle calls from every country in the world.

The UK consular network covers 180 countries. Annually it issues around 30,000 emergency travel documents and deals with 20,000 consular cases, of which 6,000 are deaths, 6000 hospitalisations, 2000 British prisoners, as well as range of acute cases such as kidnaps, forced marriages and child abductions.

“We want to get the message across that we are not a concierge service. Our aim is do less for those who need our help less and more for those who need our help more,” said Mr Hay.

The LOCATE system, where Brits abroad register online so that consuls can assist them in a crisis, has been abandoned because the uptake was low. Even in Syria, only 30 per cent of British nationals have registered, he said.

Instead, the FCO will be using social media such as Facebook and Twitter to connect to citizens and to disseminate information and travel alerts. The responsibilty for staying in touch will rest with British citizens.

The FCO has bolstered its crisis response, with the opening of a Crisis Centre to enable it to respond effectively in an emergency.

“The political pressure  to get a crisis response right is incredibly acute and it is something where the reputation of the foreign ministry is at stake,” stressed Mr Hay, who successfully managed the response to the attack on foreign workers at an Algerian gas field earlier this year.

“But you are only as good as your last crisis,” he warned.

Charles Hay and CCL Vice President Olga Jerzjukova

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