A lot of my work involves working in small posts in multi-hatted roles. My last two floats in Trinidad & Tobago and Guyana are good examples.
There was a striking headline in Trinidad & Tobago's national newspaper – 513 murders and 224 road accidents for the year 2008, which highlights two major problems the government has to grapple with. They were given another difficult task during my second week when constant rain fairly quickly started to flood the capital, Port of Spain, and beyond, damaging houses and washing away cars.
We had a few problems of our own the day I took over in the management section with power loss to the High Commissioner's house and a burnt out switch setting off the fire alarm in the early hours, which resulted in the water supply stopping in the High Commission. It was my job to co-ordinate solving these problems, with help from the very capable local staff. I oversaw our small consular and visa operations too, including monitoring the welfare of British Nationals in prison for drug offences, as well as answering the out-of-hours emergency phone.
In my subsequent post in Georgetown, Guyana, I had the same mix of roles, and once again, there was a high threat of major flooding, as it was rainy season. I drew up some short term contingency measures, mainly stocks of water, sandbags etc. taking advice from local staff experience of the severe floods in 2005. Guyana is roughly the same size as the UK, but only has a population of around 700,000, concentrated on the coast. The rest of the country is mainly untouched rain forest, with incredible, rare creatures such as giant otters, huge fish with razor-like teeth and exotic birds. See the BBC's recent DVD, Lost Land of the Jaguar, if you want to find out more. Our High Commissioner, Fraser Wheeler makes a brief appearance in there, as we are supporting Guyana's efforts to preserve the rainforest for future generations.
Management work overseas presents very different challenges to what management would mean in the UK; you might not have reliable water, electricity, supplies etc. You are responsible for all the basics such as staff housing, the office buildings and transport, local staff interests and welfare, accounts, supplies, in environments where things we take for granted in the UK don't exist or are hard to find.
Matthew, thanks for your question on what I did before the FCO. I have included a bit about that in my biography. But I'll say a bit more in my next blog.