By: ELOISE WALTON
THE CLOSURE of the passport issuing service in Lisbon and its transfer to Madrid is not a sign that Portugal is losing its status in favour of Spain.
British Consul-General and Regional Director of Consular Services Michael Holloway, speaking exclusively to The Resident, said the decision was taken because of the need to reorganise and to pool resources to better respond to the increasing demands of British residents and visitors.
Responding to complaints about the move to Madrid and fears that consular services may be phased out in Portugal, Michael Holloway said: “Portugal is in no way losing its status to Spain. We are even looking at the possibility of increasing
our bases of operation in the country to meet with the increasing demand from British citizens.
“Portugal will continue to have its embassy, ambassador and consulates, as will Spain.”
Michael Holloway was sent to Madrid by the Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO) to modernise the consular operation and oversee the integration of two consular services into one operation. He has a service delivery background, having previously worked as the director for immigration in Bangladesh,
“The decision to move the passport issuing services for Spain and Portugal to Madrid is part of a modern and sensible approach that will provide a consistent service across two countries without compromising on customer services,” he said. “Each year around 22,000 British passports are issued from Madrid, the seventh largest British passport issuing service in the world, compared to just 2,000 to 2,500 passports in Lisbon.”
An increased demand from British visitors and citizens because of the dot-com expansion, which allows people to travel cheaply and with ease, has meant that the FCO has to find new ways of making services cost effective.
“By pooling the resources of these two countries, which have natural similarities and where British citizens face identical problems, we are able to offer more services across Iberia.”
Aware of the problems experienced by customers in Portugal with the courier service BPack, recommended by the FCO, Michael Holloway said that all of the issues had been passed on to the service provider and are being resolved.
“Of the 160 passports that have been issued so far for British citizens living in Portugal, there have been around 10 complaints about BPack,” he said, adding: “I do not want to make this difficult for people in any way, and am in fact meeting with the courier company on Friday (today) to discuss the resolution of the issues highlighted by our customers.”
Looking to the future, Michael Holloway said that new ideas are being discussed to offer British citizens a better quality of service, including a new British consulate office in Portimão.
“Around April or May, the British consulate in Portimão will be moving to new custom built premises that will be modern and very well equipped with facilities to help people who are victims of serious crimes, which it does not currently have.” he said. “We are also looking into the possibility of expanding our support network to other parts of the Algarve, and have been in discussion with tour operators in the region.”
For more information about the services being provided by the British Embassy, including information about the passport issuing service, please visit the website at www.britishembassy.gov.uk/portugal.
THE BRITISH Consul-General and Regional Director of Consular Services for Iberia, Michael Holloway, took part in a question and answer session with members of the British speaking community in the Algarve, on Tuesday.
During the meeting, organised by the British Consul, Celia Edwards, and the Association for Foreign Residents in Portugal (AFPOP), Michael Holloway spoke of the modernisation of the Consular services in Iberia.
It was said by one member that a consultation period for the movement of the passport issuing scheme to Madrid had not been carried out with British citizens in Portugal, which caused some tension in the room.
“I am not trying to make it difficult for people,” he said in response. “The process works very well in Spain and so far for citizens in Portugal it has worked overwhelmingly well, better than I imagined.”
The use of terms such as customers and shops by Michael Holloway, when speaking about British citizens and consular offices, was met with criticism by some members of the audience, who felt that the consul operation was becoming more like a privatised business.
In response to the criticism, he said that to achieve good public services, which are in ever greater demand, and which people pay for, is to introduce modern business models and ideas.
“We are now employing people into the FCO with business and management backgrounds from major banking, telecommunications and travel companies so that public services can benefit from the best of both worlds” he said.
In order to move closer to British citizens and visitors who are geographically far from the consular offices, the Consul General said that he was keen to bring consular services to where people are.
“We are looking into road trips and workshops in areas where British citizens and visitors are concentrated to give on the spot advice and provide services there and then” he said.
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