BRITAIN is to reshape its overseas diplomatic network, closing or turning over to local staff several dozen posts, in a cost-cutting drive to pay for embassies in Iraq and Afghanistan and to fight terrorism.
The biggest shake-up in the diplomatic service for years comes as the government turns its focus to new regional priorities and to fighting weapons proliferation, energy policy and climate change, the Foreign Office said yesterday. In the past three years, London has opened new posts in Iraq, Afghanistan and North Korea, stretching the budget. Extra security - including relocating some posts, camera surveillance and bomb-proof glass - to guard against attacks like last year's suicide bomb on the consulate in Istanbul has also inflated running costs. The Foreign Office said earlier this year it needed to double annual spending on embassy security. Eight embassies staffed by British diplomats will be closed in the Asia Pacific region, Latin America and Africa and one locally staffed post will be closed, the Foreign Office said. British diplomats will be replaced by local staff in 11 embassies in countries like Australia, Germany, France and some states of the United States. Ten subordinate posts consulates general or consulates - will be closed with nearby countries providing representation. The changes should bring savings of about 6 million pounds annually once they are in place, expected by the end of 2006. The savings will help to underpin higher-priority work in line with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's strategic priorities, including on counter proliferation, counter terrorism, energy and climate change, a statement said. The government will also reorganise its network of trade officials to focus on emerging markets like China and India. The changes come as London prepares for an expensive year in 2005. Britain will chair the Group of Eight industrial nations and head the European Union in the latter half of the year.
THE government's decision to no longer have a British diplomat as the figurehead of the British community in Majorca has surprised many expatriate residents.
But more importantly, over the past few years, the British Consul has become a key figure for the local authorities and the British travel industry.
Yesterday, the Association of British Travel Agents, ABTA, for example, reacted cooly to the announcement. We are sure that the Foreign Office will have considered the new arrangements very carefully, however, we would expect them to monitor the situation closely and if it transpires that the new arrangements are not adequate to fully protecting our customers' interests then they will re-instate a Consul in Palma, an ABTA sokesperson told the Bulletin.
The present Consul, Mike Banham, has played an important role, in co-operation with tour operators, in improving care and attention for British visitors to Majorca and the Balearics in general, while also assisting the local authorities with their tourist police training programme.
ABTA said yesterday that the Foreign Office recently reshaped its diplomatic network in Italy, but while it has worked there, we'll have to wait and see if it works in Majorca. During the summer, the British Consulate in Palma is one of the busiest in Spain with the staff having to look after the needs of tens thousands of holiday makers and local residents.
In the mid-term, the Consulate will also have to adjust to the new British passport system which will involve finger prints and eye-scans being taken and stored in the new travel document.