Her Majesty’s Consul, David Broomfield, explains some of the changes taking place at the consulate
The British consulate has recently announced new opening hours. Could you explain the reason for this decision?
We reviewed feedback from British citizens and as a consequence we’ve increased our opening hours for the public and introduced an appointment system two days a week for notarial and documentation services. On Wednesdays the section will be closed (except for real emergencies) to allow staff to do important outreach work with the local British resident communities and the Italian authorities. We’ll also use the time to carry out our crisis preparation work. We’re also planning to introduce a new telephone service to enable British nationals to speak direct to a consular enquiry point, rather than going through the main embassy switchboard. This number will be advertised on the ukinitaly website and in the media.
By the end of the year the consulates in Venice and Florence will have closed. Could you explain why?
Earlier this year consular services were reviewed across Italy, with the aim of improving our services. We decided to centralise northern services in Milan with an enlarged consular team. British nationals in Tuscany and Umbria will now have the choice of travelling to either Milan or Rome for full consular services including the issuing of emergency travel documents. The honorary consul will remain in Venice and a new honorary consul, Sara Milne, has been appointed in Florence.
Are there differences between the British expats who live in these cities (Venice and Florence) and those who live in Milan, Rome and Naples, the consulates that remain open?
I don’t think so. Obviously the British business community is much larger in Milan than elsewhere, with a commensurate number of families with children. In Florence the British business community is not large, but there are many resident Brits connected with academia and the arts. And there is a large British community of home-owners in Tuscany and Umbria. Rome and the Mezzogiorno have much more mixed communities of British nationals.
Most Brits only come into contact with the consulate if they are in trouble or if they need legal documents.
Do you think that the consulate has more than a bureaucratic or fire-fighting function?
It certainly does. It is also our job to raise awareness of safe travelling for British nationals coming to Italy. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) works hard in this area and, in fact, the numbers of British nationals finding themselves in trouble overseas has dropped.
One example of this in Italy is from Milan, where the consular team noticed an unfortunate increase in the number of serious skiing accidents or deaths – mainly alcohol-related. The team initiated a “Don’t drink and ski” campaign, with the aim of trying to prevent these. In the same vein, in Rome, we have begun to carefully monitor theft “hotspots”; we can do this when tourists produce police reports to support an emergency travel document application. If there is a particular area or a train where many thefts are occurring I raise this with the authorities, and work with them to alert British tourists of the risk. We also include these problem areas on our website ukinitaly and in the FCO travel advice for tourists to Italy.
There have been changes in recent years in the procedure for issuing British passports. How are these working and are there more changes ahead?
I think it’s working well. Guidance on how to obtain a new passport is on our website. Passport applications are now processed in Paris, and printed in the UK. In the near future the entire processing of passports will be centralised in the UK. There were some initial teething problems when the process was transferred from Rome but these have now been addressed.
What has been the most difficult case that you have had to manage during your various postings in Italy – Naples, Florence and now Rome – and why?
For the past two years I’ve been working with the Kercher family. It is a truly tragic case. The family has acted throughout this ordeal with great dignity. It has been a real honour to be able to carry on the work of my predecessor in Florence and the Florence consular team in assisting the family in whatever way I can.
What would be your most important piece of advice to a British subject coming to live in Italy?
Do your research thoroughly beforehand. Check out the FCO website, particularly the “Travel & Living Abroad” pages (www.fco.gov.uk/travel). Go through the ukinitaly website and browse the internet more widely. Read Wanted in Rome... and learn Italian!
Is more of your time taken with difficulties of those living in Italy or with tourists coming to visit for just a few days?
Brits resident in Italy are, for the most part, very self-sufficient, and since passports are no longer issued at the embassy we don’t see or hear from large numbers of them. Most of our time is taken up with Brits visiting Italy who are hospitalised, have been robbed, imprisoned, or who have died.
Which are your most valuable contacts in the Italian community? Are there new ones you would like to establish?
Our most valuable Italian contacts are with the local and regional authorities, the police, civil protection agency and prison authorities. We continually try to build up this network.
What is the event that the consulate dreads most?
Obviously a large-scale natural disaster with many British citizens involved is not something we would relish – but we do run in-house crisis exercises, as I mentioned, so we’re prepared for these. The ash cloud crisis as well as the Libya evacuation proved that we’re able to cope when under pressure – but it was tough going!
Consular Section’s new opening hours to the public:
09.00 – 14.00 Monday and Friday
09.00 – 15.30 Tuesday and Thursday
Consular Section is closed on Wednesdays.
Notarial appointments: 09.00-15.00 Tuesdays and Thursdays.
“UK in Italy” website: http://ukinitaly.fco.gov.uk/en/