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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Consular Deliberations

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

At a reception following the Foreign Office’s Consulate Network conference, Meg made the following remarks.


As the Minister with responsibility for the consular network I’d like to welcome you this evening.


The 2000-strong consular network makes an important difference to people’s lives. Your efforts helping UK citizens in trouble matters enormously - to the individual concerned of course, but also to their families. It also matters to the wider public, who can be reassured that they would be helped if anything awful happened, and not least to the Foreign Office and Ministers. 


Your work also has a huge impact on the reputation of the Foreign Office. You may be the only direct contact many members of the public have with us. This in a context of a world of ever increasing travel, bringing with it increasing pressure on those charged with the job of looking after UK citizens abroad.


I’d like to see over the next year all of us having greater confidence in the service that we provide. Inevitably as with many spheres of life good news rarely gets printed or on the TV.  There will be lots more coverage of situations where we fail to provide the service we should, or as is sometimes the case, we simply do not meet someone’s expectations however unrealistic they may be. But we should not let this deter us from seeking to explain what we can do and actively telling the media what we have done.


One of the joys of being a constituency MP is that you get to see many different aspects of life. On Saturday I spent the day with the Chief Superintendent of police experiencing how they manage a potentially difficult football match – in this case Sheffield Wednesday vs Sheffield United. Before I finished I asked the officer in charge of football control for his reflections on the day. He gave me an honest assessment of where things had gone well and where events had occurred which would require a change of strategy in the future. This is our task. Every consular situation is different and those involving large numbers of people will bring new lessons as well as new successes. 


On my first overseas visit as a Foreign Office Minister I met the consular team in Mexico. We discussed their preparations for the hurricane season and I learnt about some of their more complex cases.  In subsequent visits to posts, I’ve met many other staff in consular sections, and learnt about yet more complex cases!


As leaders of the overseas consular networks your professionalism is important. Especially as you guide your teams through changes taking place in the Foreign Office. Your commitment to the work, to the people, matters in delivering a first class service. Your willingness to continually improve the service within clear limits is what marks the consular service out.  I want to thank you for everything you have done and will continue to do.


We also have here people from some of our strongest partner organisations. None-Governmental Organisations and colleagues from other Government Departments are essential in delivering consular services overseas. They help give the widest possible access to the range of services that can be provided, and help raise the quality of those services.


There is the example of the innovative partnerships shown in the Iberian network. Here Age Concern, the Department of Work and Pensions and the Royal British Legion work together. They have implants in our offices there, and whilst sounding painful, I am assured it works extremely well.


By working together we can provide a joined –up, professional response to crises. For example, the Red Cross travels with our Rapid Deployment Teams and the police provide Disaster Victim Identification expertise. 


With joined-up comes shared responsibilities. The joint Ministry of Defence/Foreign Office training exercise in October which practiced evacuating British Nationals in a crisis situation helped us to have a better understanding of our responsibilities in these situations. The Customer Care Policy Guidelines, developed between the Foreign Office and the Federation of Tour Operators, helps ensure the handover of people between us is efficient and effective. An important partnership to develop during 2008 is with the Identity and Passport Service.  

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