Over 50 million overseas trips are made by British nationals each year and over 5 million British nationals live and work abroad. A small number of these British nationals need help from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO).
The Consular Service provides high-quality services to British nationals overseas, dealing with nearly 280,000 face-to-face enquiries and helping in over 97,000 assistance cases, including difficult and complex cases involving deaths or murders, forced marriage or child abduction. Between February 2011 and February 2012, there were nearly 10.5 million visits to the Travel and Living Abroad pages of the FCO website.
The FCO supports those British nationals around the world through modern and efficient consular services by continuing to improve the quality of our consular services and the performance of our network, which extends to 271 diplomatic staff in 170 countries.
We produce a range of publications that encourage safer overseas travel and describe how we can help if things go wrong. Support for British nationals abroad: a guide provides information on the support and advice we can give to British nationals, including information on terrorist attacks and major catastrophes.
On 1 April 2011 we successfully transferred the overseas passport issuing operation to the Identity and Passport Service. This has reduced duplication between different systems and helped us to achieve cost savings.
This change, along with others such as simplifying our notarial services, which involves preparing legal documents, lets us concentrate on our main assistance and crisis work, improving our services to the most vulnerable.
We have improved the operation of the Legalisation Office, the only authority to issue Apostilles (certificates that confirm UK public documents are genuine) in the UK.
In 2011 to 2012 we set up 24-7 crisis centres for British nationals caught up in natural disasters or political and civil unrest. We used social media and other channels to ensure that British nationals had the latest travel advice. Our ambassadors are using blogs and social media to communicate directly with citizens in their countries, giving us a reach of millions.
Following a series of natural disasters in 2011 and 2012, we reviewed our response and have now:
- expanded our Rapid Deployment Team network, including for the Middle East
- introduced London Crisis Response Teams
- designed a new Crisis Management Planning framework for overseas posts
- upgraded the FCO’s Crisis Centre in London to give us the ability to handle multiple overseas crises simultaneously
We established a new contact centre in Malaga in 2011 to initially handle all consular telephone enquiries in Spain, Italy and Portugal. This model is being copied in a number of locations across the globe and frees frontline staff to concentrate on our main assistance work.
The Foreign Secretary gave a speech in April 2012, Looking after our own: strengthening Britain’s consular diplomacy, about supporting British nationals around the world by providing modern and efficient consular services.
The FCO’s consular strategy is published every 3 years and sets out the FCO’s vision for how it will provide a modern, efficient service supporting British nationals overseas.
Consular Excellence, the new consular strategy for 2013 to 2016, builds on the successes of the 2 previous 3-year consular strategies.
Consular Excellence will encourage innovation and excellence in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s consular service over the next 3 years. It is an interactive strategy and will be updated every 6 months.