Consular Strategy 2013-16

Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs written statement – made on 18th April 2013.

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Photo of William Hague William Hague The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I have today launched a new consular strategy for 2013 to 2016 entitled “Consular Excellence”. This strategy will deliver better service for British people over the next three years.

Millions of British people travel abroad every year. Most have a journey free from trouble and do not need consular services. However sometimes things go wrong and British nationals can be victims of serious crime, require hospitalisation or be caught up in a major crisis. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has staff in 146 cities around the world able and ready to provide assistance when necessary, often in tragic circumstances. The FCO is committed to doing its utmost to assist British nationals in serious difficulties abroad.

I am proud of the great work the FCO’s consular service does but it can be better; under this new strategy the FCO aims to have the best consular service in the world by 2016. The FCO will build on significant improvements made in the last six years, including greater investment in staff, better crisis response, building regional structures and the start of transferring passport work. By 2016, the FCO will have a modern, efficient service supporting British nationals overseas. We will do more to help those who need it most; those who are most at risk because of who they are, where they are or what has happened to them. We will deliver more services through expert partners, and where it is reasonable, ask people to help themselves. The FCO will also introduce a modern and streamlined notarial and documentary service. All these changes will help us respond better to changing needs and react faster to crisis situations.

The FCO is also responding to British nationals needs to be best informed about crisis and security situations when overseas. We are updating its systems to offer a wide array of ways to stay in touch on these issues, including email updates of the FCO’s country-specific travel advice or by following FCO on social media. Around 125 of our overseas posts have Facebook pages and over 100 posts have Twitter accounts that are used to communicate changes to travel advice. Not only will the public be able to access FCO travel advice online at any time but those who want to will be alerted when there are major updates. More specifically, the strategy will see:

Improvements to our services, so that we achieve consistently excellent standards, with our efforts focused more on helping the people who need it the most, and doing less where we can deliver a service differently or it is reasonable to ask people to help themselves.

Improvements to the customer experience, giving British nationals greater choice in how they access our services and how they can reach us. As a result, four contact centres will be created, offering a streamlined route to consular services.

Digital transformation, with more services available online and more use of technology to help us deliver services.

Engagement with customers and partners, improving our processes for gathering feedback and for carrying out consultations with special interest groups and British nationals.

Support for our networks and development of our people, helping to maintain and build greater professionalism amongst our staff and ensure that we have resilient structures in place to enable proper service delivery.

Improvements to our crisis response, embedding the major changes to our processes since the Arab spring, continuing regular exercising of our posts overseas and increasing engagement with other interested parties. In effect, the FCO is moving from a system where British nationals are encouraged to register when they travel in case there is a crisis, to one where we are using a number of channels to give British nationals the latest information and advice on what they should do if they need our help in a crisis. This faster and more practical system supersedes the locate system, which had been used by less than 1% of British nationals overseas, which did not offer what FCO needs to help support British nationals in a crisis. Those who have already registered with the FCO on locate will be contacted directly to make sure they are aware of how to stay informed and also how to communicate with FCO if they need help.

Transferring overseas passport production to the Identity and Passport Service in the UK, establishing a more consistent, secure, efficient and cost-effective service.

I am committed to ensuring FCO has the best crisis IT system in the world. The FCO will also continue to encourage the British public to take sensible precautions, read FCO travel advice and take responsibility for their own safety first, particularly if they are travelling to or living in high-risk locations.

The new consular strategy is available on GOV.UK at: in accordance with Government digital by default principles. I have placed a copy of the strategy in the Libraries of both Houses.