THE Director for Consular Affairs in the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London, Julia Longbottom visited Benidorm this week.
Ms Longbottom and Sarah-Jane Morris, British Consul for Alicante, have been visiting the many residents associations, official bodies and media representatives in the region.
Ms Longbottom, who is also head of the Crisis Services, detailed in general terms how the Consular services are continually evolving to meet their customers’ needs, and that Spain has the largest consular team in the world, helping 1.5 million British visitors each year and an estimated 300,000 expatriates.
She said: “It is important for me to understand how our team is reaching out to the British community at all levels, from the ambassador in Madrid to the groups who have concerns. We need to make sure that their views are heard.”
Sarah-Jane Morris and Julia Longbottom spent an evening in the resort with local women in business Karen-Maling Cowes and Vikki Caton along with the President of HELP, Sylvia Wiggins.
Karen said: “We are women who all strive and work hard for a better community, I feel proud to have worked alongside the British Consulate, helping improving safety within our community. I have learnt so much about achieving what seemed in the beginning to be an impossible goal. The experience of the Consulate has been of great value and I look forward to their continued meetings supporting the British residents and there concerns for a safer Benidorm for us all.”
The Consular service has a four year plan which focuses on prevention rather than treating the symptoms.
“No one wants to have their holiday ruined,” the Director said, “so if we can help prevent such events and give advice on how to prepare for an overseas trip and assist when things do go wrong, that is what we are here for.”
Ms Longbottom talked about the increasing availability of digital services. For example emergency travel documents can be processed on one day and are normally available the next.
She said: “Our services have to be relevant and accessible to all our customers, we have to ensure that the information is available by other means even though the majority now have access to the internet, it is important to hear and understand all the questions that our customers have.”
Up-to-date accurate advice can be found on the Consular Facebook page ‘Foreign and Commonwealth Office,’ and details of the Helping British People Overseas plan are available at www.gov.uk/fco.