Simon Taylor, British Consul for a large chunk of France, including our own area, has been talking once again to Patrick Middleton
When Simon Taylor arrived in the region, just over five years ago, I was, he recalled, the first journalist he talked to. What impressed me then was how well suited he was to consular work: conceived in Saigon, born in Liverpool, much of his earlier years were spent, during school holidays, in a variety of places to which his diplomat father was posted – Kinshasa and Warsaw, Tunis and Brussels. His earliest link with this country was through his French maternal grandmother and he then went on to take a wife who’s half a Gaul. His initial ambition was to be an artist but gave up the idea after taking a supposedly temporary job at the British consulate in Paris. It lasted twenty years until he was offered the posting to Marseille “and that was an offer I couldn’t refuse”.
Our priority ... good services to our citizens
We had lunch in Cannes where he’d come to attend the memorial event for Dorothy Chamaide. “I think it’s useful for your readers to catch up with what’s been happening in the consular service,” he told me. “In these difficult times the FCO has to reconcile reduced resources with changing needs. Put plainly, we have to do more in areas like the former Soviet Union and so rationalise our activities elsewhere. That’s why Florence was closed, for example, and in France, Lille. Our situation in Marseille is that we now cover a rather bigger territory but with a smaller staff. Given that, our priority remains providing good services to our fellow citizens.”
What does that mean exactly? “Well, we no longer do political and commercial work. We concentrate on personal consular services. Before I expand on that, let me say what we don’t do. An FCO spokesman said not long ago that we don’t offer a concierge service. So – to take some of his examples – we can’t help you sell your house or sort out a matrimonial dispute. Some demands are commoner and more insistent in some cases – so we have to make clear that we don’t lend you money, other than in exceptional cases, or help you with legal problems.” So what’s the consulate’s basic function? “It’s twofold: firstly, to offer help to those facing emergencies – accident, sudden illness, bereavement, natural disaster – or those who’ve been victims of crime or even the perpetrators if they end up in prison where we make sure they are aware of their rights. Secondly, we are ready and able to offer advice on the availability of English-speaking professionals such as doctors, lawyers, undertakers and so on. In emergencies we have to act as comforters and that’s where we value our co-operation with the British Association and the churches. In your neck of the woods I’m thinking of people like Valerie Haxton and Michael Healy. Linking both residents and visitors to sources of advice and help within the wider British community is a central aspect of our work.”
For fuller information on British consular services in France – including passport renewal and replacement (handled in Paris) – see ukinfrance.fco.gov.uk