More realism needed about how the FCO can help UK nationals abroad, says the Foreign Affairs Committee.
Despite efforts by the FCO to explain to the public what it can and cannot do, there is still a significant gap between the high expectations of the public and the reality of the consular services that the FCO can provide. More worryingly, there is also on occasion a gap between what the public can legitimately expect and what the FCO provides.
The Committee received substantial anecdotal evidence to indicate that FCO support to bereaved families is inconsistent and has at times fallen well below expected standards of compassion and communication. The Committee was also concerned by complaints about reduced support for Brits in prison abroad.
Sir Richard Ottaway, Chairman of the Committee, said today:
"Some people expect the FCO to act as lawyer, insurance company or banker when they run into trouble abroad. This is unrealistic and leads to unfair criticism of the unique emergency assistance that the FCO does provide. We consider that the FCO has substantially improved its consular service, and can be proud of its team, which provides help to thousands of Brits every year.
We have nonetheless been concerned by complaints about failings to support vulnerable people in detention, or who have suffered a loss abroad. These cannot be dismissed and must be investigated by the FCO to ensure that problems do not recur."
The Committee also considered the lengthy passport delays in summer 2014, which followed the transfer of all passport processing from the FCO to HM Passport Agency. It concluded that service to British nationals overseas had deteriorated, and that the FCO’s reputation had been damaged.