THE Director for Consular Affairs in the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London, Julia Longbottom, is currently in Spain visiting residents’ associations, official bodies and media representatives.
The Euro Weekly News was delighted to be invited for an interview with Ms Longbottom and Sarah-Jane Morris, British Consul for Alicante, to discuss the concerns of expats and tourists regarding Brexit, how to stay safe, and what consular services are available.
Ms Longbottom, who is also head of the Crisis Services, detailed how her department is continually evolving to meet citizens’ needs, with Spain having 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.”
The Consular service has a four year plan which in part focuses on prevention rather than treating the symptoms, encouraging people and authorities to engage with them and move forwards in a positive manner.
Many incidents can be prevented if travellers follow the official advice given.
“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.
“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,” she said. It is important to hear and understand all the questions that our customers have.”
The Consular team are aware that there are lots of groups within the community who are well organised to help each other, and they have been working with these groups in order to provide the best information available.
Up-to-date, accurate advice can be found on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Consuar Facebook page, while details of the Helping British People Overseas plan are available at www.gov.uk/fco.