The office is all open plan (even Paul sits there with his team) with a partitioned off waiting area for visitors and a separate meeting/conference room and additional small interview room. One nice touch is having a television playing British news whilst you wait - always a comfort to hear your own language when in distress. The staff are trained to carry out all duties, but when it comes to victims of crime, especially those of a "personal nature" it is left for the female staff to deal with.
The move into the new premises was completed in four days - quite a feat and included all the cabling for the telephones and computers - which was carried out by British contractors as they had to have security clearance! The team of seven which Paul has working with him are all fluent bi-lingual speakers - something which Paul insists on considering that they have to communicate and liase with various Spanish authorities on a daily basis. And he practises what he preaches as he too is totally fluent - but then having a Spanish wife may have something to do with that! He also has two young sons which are being raised to speak both languages, something that most definitely will come in useful.
The 3 main priorities of the Consulate are Security, Prosperity - promoting trade and investment between the two countries and Consular services - helping and supporting vulnerable Brits abroad.
The Consular services are probably what most Britons will experience and come across if needing the services of the Foreign Office. The Alicante office dealt last year with the highest number of lost or stolen passports of any Consulate in the world - over 1000 passports. It is certainly a record they would like to lower if possible and they have issued a number of safety videos about lost and stolen passports. It is a very costly and time consuming process so please look after yours - although having said that, they can turn an emergency passport around in 2 hours... but be aware, it is only valid for a single journey to get you back to the UK. You will then have to apply for a full 10 year passport upon your return - and obviously pay again!
Other things which the Consular staff deal with on a daily basis include hospitalisation, death & bereavement, victims of crime, welfare - dealing with the homeless and mental illness... all hard core stuff and I would imagine, emotionally draining. Similar to doctors they all adhere to Consular Confidentiality and cannot discuss any cases outside the office.
|Plush new waiting area.|
One way they do this is by pioneering a project called "ConeXiones" whereby Spanish social services work closely with the local English speaking voluntary sector to offer support to Brits abroad.
|At last years festival - lost passport applicants!|
Paul also added his Top 5 tips to expats living here to avoid having problems:
1. Remember to tell friends and family when visiting you to get an EHIC nad comprehensive insurance.
2. Don´t let your passport expire - you may have to travel urgently and that will mean getting an Emergency Travel document and a 10 year full validity passport - expensive and time consuming.
3. Visit your local town hall to become acquainted with the services they offer - if habitually resident, register yourself on the padron.
4. If you are looking for information on a UK government department, please look at www.gov.uk - it will save you phoning us or coming in!
5. Turn to your local authority in the first instance for help (112, social services, local town hall etc)
As if that isn´t enough for a days work (and Paul is generally at his desk around 7.30am), he also sits on the board of Consular Services for Southern Europe - consulting with his peers on improvements, charities and providing a strategic overview for British nationals abroad... and with his background in the hotel industry, he is very particular and adamant about customer satisfaction. So if you thought that the Consul sits in his ivory tower all day think again....
British Consulate in Alicante moving
British Consul visits Benidorm