Consular Services to British Nationals: Thirty-ninth Report of Session 2005-06; Report, Together with Formal Minutes, Oral and Written Evidence

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The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (the Department) provides a wide range of consular services from over 200 Embassies, High Commissions and Consulates ("Posts") worldwide. On the basis of a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (HC 594, session 2005-06, ISBN 010293617X), the Committee examined three main issues: their progress in influencing British nationals travelling overseas; developing consular services as a responsive service; and reacting to consular crises. The Department has made some significant innovations, such as working with operators like EasyJet and publishing the Rough Guide to Safer Travel, to increase its influence on those travelling overseas. But consular staff are increasingly called to help the irresponsible minority whose problems may have been avoided by greater awareness and planning before travelling, or by sensible behaviour once abroad. The Department used its existing powers to charge for consular services in just 323 out of 84,000 assistance cases. In 2001, the Department procured a casework management system at a cost to date of 3.3 million, but this has not been successfully embedded across the organisation, and has not produced the management information the Department needs to manage its consular business effectively. Issuing passports at over 100 Posts is inefficient and exposes the Department to increasing risks from fraudulent applications. The Department has improved its crisis management capabilities since 2001, although there has been slow progress in updating and testing emergency plans at Posts. The Indian Ocean Tsunami presented an extreme challenge for consular services; their call centres were overwhelmed and they were unable to assist British nationals as quickly as they would have wished.

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