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The people who make a difference in the Canary Islands
   The people who make a difference in the Canary Islands

A private public servant
Her Majesty the Queen’s Consul for Las Palmas, and Trade and Investment Consul for the Canary Islands, Peter Nevitt, invited us to his Gran Canaria office looking out directly over the Santa Catalina park.

The general advice that everybody should have is, don’t do anything here that you wouldn’t do at home!
The general advice that everybody should have is, don’t do anything here that you wouldn’t do at home!

31.01.2004 -

The Consul joined the British Foreign Service in 1986.  He was first posted as Commercial Attaché for the Canary Islands.  In 1991 there was an internal shuffle, and he was offered the task of commercial lead for all of the islands, adding the consular jurisdiction for the Province of Las Palmas.  It was a job which he “gladly accepted” and he’s been there ever since - a curious midway point from the Sutton Coldfield of his birth and the Southern Africa of his early youth.

Something of a polyglot, Nevitt speaks Spanish, English and French fluently, and he has a working knowledge of Finnish, Dutch and German - a useful skill for his chosen profession.  He is responsible for the whole of the Province of Gran Canaria and whilst he is based in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, he visits Fuerteventura or Lanzarote every three months on a regular basis.  The consular service is basically protecting our subjects overseas, offering them assistance and advice, leading people that have got into trouble in the right direction, leading people that are taking up residence in the right direction.”

The Consul’s office “believe that there are something like 9,500 to 10,000 Brits in Gran Canaria, about 6,000 on Lanzarote and about 1,500 in Fuerteventura.”  Although it is no longer legally necessary to register with them “We’d like to get as many people as possible to register with us.  This applies to both young and old, we know that there’s lots of elderly people taking up residence here, obviously the time may come when we may need to trace members of the family back in the UK and it works the other way too.  The data protection act and all the other acts are applied to us as well.”  He also added that, “never in a month of Sundays” would any personal information be supplied to any third party, even banks or government departments.  The normal response would be for the consul’s office to contact the person concerned and say they had a message for them, or ask them to call their family back in the UK.

British companies export about two hundred million pounds worth of goods to the Canary Islands, which makes it a very important customer indeed, about two thirds of the way up the top one hundred.  A part of his job is to promote those exports.  “We are responsible for ensuring that British industry is aware of the opportunities in the Canary Islands, getting as much information as possible of that particular market to any enquiries back in the UK.  We give support to local businessmen by putting them in touch with British businesses or British industries and we help British industries by putting them in touch with locals.”

Of that huge total, “about 20 per cent is food - marmalades, convenience foods, teas, you name them.  Another 20 per cent is alcoholic beverages, whisky, gin, beers, etc.  Then 20 per cent the metal sector, which includes motor vehicles sent direct from the UK to the Canary Islands.  The remaining 40 per cent comprises every other product sector with two exceptions, electricity and waste paper.

“Basically speaking the British exporters do a very good thriving business here, there has been a regular increase on exports to the Islands. The number of tourists don’t seem to affect our exports, nor does the cost of living.”

Despite fears to the contrary, and some tour operators insistence on the necessity of all-inclusive holiday offers to off-balance the possible negative effects of the exchange rate, the Consul is very positive about the immediate future of tourism in the Province.  “I think people are coming here for the sake of a holiday in the sun, rather than looking at the exchange rates.  The number of tourists has been on the increase for a long time however the rate of exchange has changed a lot.  I know there is quite a lot of concern about the all inclusive packages that are trying to be forced onto people at the moment as far as the local trade is concerned.  I don’t think our British people are geared for the all inclusive packages.  I think the majority of the tourists that come here are people who want to go out and try the local foods.  Can you imagine that the majority of people would want to be in a hotel which is far from the beach and then going back for lunch on a taxi ride or on a bus ride or whatever it may be?  I don’t think so - I think they’d prefer their traditional type of holiday.

“If you look at the recent surveys, it has been proved that the British are in fact spending a lot more than any other nationality.  They are coming into the four and five star hotels and are spending more money outside every day.  The Brits are well above other competitors, if you want to call them competitors, like the Germans who used to be the heavy spenders.  We have far more tourists coming to the Canary Islands in general than the Germans do, where it used to be the other way round just a few years back”


The Consul’s guide to avoid difficulties

“Of four million British people that come to the Canary Islands, you’ve obviously got to expect some of them getting into trouble, some of them having accidents, some of them getting unfortunately cheated in time share scandals or in shops, but the percentage is very, very low.

“I can almost tell you what time of the year it is just be looking at the type of cases we have.  If I didn’t know if it was summer, winter, autumn or spring, I would know by the type of cases we have.  In the winter months we get problems with the elderly - health related matters.  In the spring we would get the middle aged customer who may have problems with the rent-a-car, or holiday club problems and in the summertime we’ve got the youngsters.

“The general advice that everybody should have is, don’t do anything here that you wouldn’t do at home!

“If you’re not too sure of an area at night time back at home, you wouldn’t walk around there or visit an area that was unsafe, with jewellery all over the place and your wallet flashing out of your pocket, well don’t do it here!

“I think that nowadays, tourists are being warned of the scams that are involved in vacation holiday clubs and time shares.  There are lots of time-share organisations which are very good and very popular, they are well known companies that carry out their businesses as the law stipulates, but there are others who don’t and these are the one’s that people have to be aware of.  Before signing any agreement, they must make sure of their rights and must make sure that they know what they are getting themselves into, as they would wherever they go in the world. We would not give anybody advice as far as what property to buy, how much to pay for it and so forth.” But, they would advise, “before you sign any documents, obtain a second opinion, make sure you’ve got legal advice and where we can fit in is giving the enquirer a list of officially recognised lawyers that we believe understand the English language.

 “People should be aware that when they go to buy jewellery or when they go to buy electronic equipment, to make sure they go to the right type of shop.  You don’t go to a hamburger store to buy jewellery, you don’t go to a local bazaar to buy a good quality digital camera.  You go to a jewellers shop for jewellery and to an expert electronics shop for electronic goods.  Don’t go to a local bazaar to buy a gold chain because you’ll end up with a bit of polished metal in your pocket or on your neck.

If people who feel they’ve been cheated get in touch with the consul’s office whilst still on holiday they would advise them on the right authorities to contact, but they should also “go back to the shop, go back to the company that sold you a holiday club, say that you want to review your situation, get legal advice.”  People who write in from home would have their complaints forwarded, but usually be advised to get legal guidance.

“The local authorities do take these complaints very seriously.  People are getting their money back, or compensation, or their problem sorted out.  I think it’s a very important matter to bear in mind, that the local authorities from the police to the local autonomous government are always willing and ready to give as much assistance and advice as possible.  Don’t expect the police to speak your language.  Go along with your tour operator representative, or wait until the police have their interpreter available at whatever hours they may have them.”

As we were talking about getting into problems abroad, I took the opportunity to ask for news of Ruth Jones, the British woman in prison for what many believe is an unfound accusation.  The Consul explained that he made it a policy not to make any comment on individuals, whatever their situation but said “On a personal basis I would just hope to see her case solved as soon as possible.”

Peter Nevitt is a very private individual, who takes pride and pleasure in his varied tasks and looks forward to his time relaxing with his wife.  He prefers to talk about his office than himself, claiming that whilst the person changes, the consular office and all it stands for stays the same.  An individual who gives two hundred per cent to everything he does.  British business and British citizens in the Province of Gran Canaria are in very firm hands with Peter Nevitt.


By Sheila Collis

Gallery: A private public servant
The general advice that everybody should have is, don’t do anything here that you wouldn’t do at home! 
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