The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mark Simmonds):
The Foreign Secretary launched the 2013-16 Consular Strategy in April last year, setting out a series of changes to drive innovation and excellence in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s consular services.
One year on, the FCO has already delivered significant improvements to the services received by our consular customers across the world:
- we have given our front-line consular staff the skills and tools to identify and assist our most vulnerable customers, including new policies for cases involving children and young people, and those who have been affected by mental health problems, rape and sexual abuse, and forced into marriage.
- we are using new and strengthened relationships with NGOs, such as mental health charity ‘MIND’, and missing persons charity ‘Missing Abroad’ to provide specialist services in areas we cannot.
- we now offer our customers a fast, professional and consistent response to their first-time telephone enquiries through our three global Contact Centres, fielding over 30,000 calls a month from British nationals worldwide. This is enabling our front-line staff to assist those most in need.
- in March 2014, we completed the full transfer of all responsibility for passport applications, decisions and the issuing of documents to Her Majesty’s Passport Office (HMPO), who now offer a online passport application service to four million British nationals overseas, and have reduced the cost of replacing or renewing passports for British nationals overseas by 35% (from April 2014).
- we are making better use of digital channels and technology. The FCO’s new Crisis IT system was successfully deployed in our recent crisis responses, including in Ukraine, South Sudan and Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. We have standardised and improved the consular assistance information online at www.gov.uk, and increasingly offer social media channels for responding to travel advice and assistance enquiries.
- alongside all of these changes, we have simplified notarial and documentary services, worked with host Governments to reduce bureaucracy, and stopped providing some services where the private sector offers comparable and trusted alternatives.
Drawing on this, I am pleased to highlight that the FCO has updated our public targets to reflect the improvements made to our consular services, demonstrating our commitment to providing high levels of service to British national overseas. These new targets appear in the updated version of Support for British nationals abroad: A Guide, in print and online. We will use these new, ambitious targets to drive and measure the performance of our consular network.
Our efforts do not stop here. In the next year, we will continue to drive forward delivery of the 2013-16 Consular Strategy. We will continue to review and update our policies for providing assistance. We will continue to prepare for and manage crisis situations effectively, carrying out a lessons learned process after each crisis with the aim of continuous improvement of our performance and procedures.
We are aiming to deliver more services digitally, including enabling our customers to pay for some services online. We will help British nationals find the information they need to help themselves, and get through to us quickly and easily when they need consular support. And we will complete our preparations for helping British nationals stay safe at the FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
I am proud of the work being carried out by the FCO staff across the world, often in very challenging circumstances. I can assure you that the FCO remains committed to providing a modern, efficient consular service supporting British nationals overseas.
I am placing copies of the following documents in the libraries of both Houses: