Update 11 April 8pm: The Foreign Office has issued the following press release:
Steve Jones, British Consul for the Canary Islands and Malaga, appointed Global Contact Centre Manager for the Foreign Office
Search for new Consul for southern Spain begins – handover expected in May
Malaga Contact Centre to act as model for three further centres worldwide
Steve Jones, British Consul for the Canary Islands and Malaga, is to take up a new role as Global Contact Centre Manager for the Foreign Office’s flagship Contact Centre programme.
After two terms as Consul for the Canaries and four years as Consul in Malaga, Mr Jones has been appointed to manage the expansion of the highly successful Malaga Contact Centre – which will soon handle consular enquires from across the whole of Europe and Africa – and the creation of three more centres in Hong Kong, Dubai and Ottawa. Once all four centres are established, Mr Jones will oversee the day-to-day performance of the global contact centre operation.
Dave Thomas, Consular Regional Director for Southern Europe, said:
“We will be sad to lose Steve as Consul, particularly after only five months in the Canaries.
“However in that time he has increased the number of customer-facing staff from eight to nine, including the Honorary Consul in Lanzarote, extended opening hours at the Consulate in Tenerife, and set-up a new process for seeking customer feed-back in Gran Canaria that we will now be extending across southern Europe.
“He has also successfully managed the development of the Malaga Consulate and Contact Centre over the last two years, increasing the number of staff delivering consular services from seven to 25, and recruiting and launching Honorary Consuls in Almeria and Jerez.
“The Vice Consuls and their teams in the Canaries and Malaga will continue to deliver exactly the same high quality of consular assistance. The new Consul will take over the responsibility for strategic issues and consular policy. Steve will remain in post until May before the handover to his replacement.”
Update 11 April 2013: I was always dubious about plans to reduce the consulate presence here, and the replacement of Maria Leng with Steve Jones based in Malaga, and indeed the situation is again up in the air to the detriment of the Canaries with the news that Mr Jones is to be moved on within just five months of his appointment. Apparently he is now to head a new “Global Contact Centre” being set up by the FO. Only the other day I was contacted by someone who was getting nowhere trying to report a stolen passport. It will be interesting to see what the new arrangements will be for these islands. When will they realize that people don’t want a “global” contact anything. They want an immediate contact in the Canaries.
Update 22 November: The Foreign Office insists that this is not a cost-cutting exercise but a restructuring. Well, that restructuring is also affecting the Balearic Islands as well, with their consul now based in Barcelona. And if anyone thought the reaction here was excessive, the Majorca Daily Bulletin has laid into the decision, and just a glance at the front page above will show that any reaction in the Canaries has been mild by comparison. I don’t think either archipelago is being unreasonable to ask why a “restructuring exercise” has been foisted on expatriates and holidaymakers alike in Britain’s two most popular areas of Spain without any forewarning or consultation. I don’t think either archipelago is being unreasonable, either, to say that “restructuring exercise” is not, actually, enough of an explanation.
Update 20 November: The British Embassy has announced that Steve Jones, the Consul in Malaga, will now cover the whole of southern Spain including the Canaries. An extra casework officer will be recruited in Tenerife for the Consulate here. The “restructuring process” involves caseworkers providing face-to-face assistance, with Consuls focusing on “strategic issues”: the Embassy sees these including “new ways of preventing and tackling the most common and complex problems that face Brits abroad – from lost passports to serious criminal matters”. In what sounds very much like management-speak, Dave Thomas, Consular Regional Director for southern Europe, said that the Consuls were being freed up “to focus on consular policy, driving up standards of delivery and customer service, and overall management of our consular teams”.
The Embassy press release says:
Steve Jones succeeds Maria Leng, who has led the team in the islands for the past two years and contributed extensively to the modernisation of British consular services there. He brings a wealth of experience in assisting British nationals and in representing the United Kingdom in Spain. He has led the busy consular team in Malaga for three years, where he also oversees the Foreign Office’s consular contact centre for southern Europe. Last year he collected the Foreign Secretary’s Award for Service Delivery. He served as Consul in the Canaries between 2007 and 2009. He previously worked in the travel industry in the Canaries, as Overseas Manager for Thomas Cook based in Fuerteventura.
I’m sure everyone will wish Steve well in his new post, but I’m also sure that we in the Canaries would wish for a dedicated Consul on the ground here in these islands. As the Embassy itself says: “The Canaries are among the most popular destinations worldwide for British nationals, with some 85,000 residents on the islands and 3.5 million visitors every year. ”
Original post 9 November: The Canaries are to lose their full-time Consul status. The Consulate is to be merged with Malaga as part of a “restructuring process” which is almost certainly a euphemism for “cost cutting exercise”. This is a huge blow for British residents and holidaymakers in the islands who, despite occasional complaints, rely heavily on the permanent availability of a Consulate service for everything from hospital emergencies to lost passports, or Britons under arrest to mundane document procedures. Where does that leave the Canaries now? No doubt this story will run and run, and there will be much more on this in days and weeks to come.