August 17, 2010 at 11:52 am #55810
British Ambassador Assesses Life in Spain Today
July 29th, 2010
The British Ambassador to Spain, Giles Paxman made a recent interview on BBC
Radio 4, one of the national radio stations in the UK, commenting on many of
the issues currently facing British people living in Spain today – while
also being relevant to any foreigner currently living on the Spanish
mainland or its islands.
Winifred Robinson interviewed Giles, the younger brother to renowned BBC
reporter Jeremy Paxman, who spoke candidly about the Spanish property crash,
employment, corruption, taxes, tourism and integrating into Spanish society.
The full transcript of the interview provides some clear insight into the
current situations faced by many living in Spain as well as good advice from
the diplomat, who had previously served in Mexico, France, Italy and
Giles Paxman (British Ambassador to Spain): There has been quite a serious
property crash in Spain, there are said to be up to a million properties on
the market now, people trying to sell. This has obviously created huge
difficulties, it’s created huge unemployment in Spain and it’s meant that a
lot of British property owners in Spain, some of whom have wanted to sell
their properties, have found it difficult to do so, people who want to
either trade up, move, come back to the UK. Certainly if you travel in some
of the areas on the Costa del Sol or down the coast you will see large
numbers of properties that have been built with for sale signs on them and
no takers at the moment.
Winifred Robinson: Some people are very critical aren’t they of the British
abroad in that a lot of us when we go abroad we want to live in places that
are like England but with sunshine. For example in the papers last week
there was a story about people who’ve bought property in a place there that
they call the Costa del Yorkshire which is a little place South of Alicante.
They bought it for perhaps two hundred thousand Euros, if they want to sell
it today they can only expect to get sixty thousand.
Giles Paxman: Yes actually property prices in Spain haven’t come down as
much as you might expect given the number of unsold properties on the market
and that’s quite often because people don’t want to lower the price, but
certainly people are finding it more difficult to sell their properties now.
We know quite a lot of cases of people who have found that living in Spain
has not been the experience that they perhaps expected it to be, who are
getting older, perhaps one member of a couple dies the other member thinks
that they’d actually like to come back to the UK, and it has been quite
difficult for some of them to sell their properties and they have become
caught in a bit of trap. There is not very much that, I’m afraid that we
can do to help them with that. Basically the property will sell for
whatever the market offers.
Winifred Robinson: There’s been a great deal of publicity here about those
people who have bought properties in Spain and then been told that they
don’t own those properties any more and that they must quit them and there
will not be compensation. The European Parliament reported on this back in
2006, was highly critical, talked about corruption in some regional
authorities, said people must be compensated and that if this didn’t happen
there might be financial penalties against Spain, that some European Union
money would be withheld from them. Has anything happened?
Giles Paxman: Well with over eight hundred thousand British people living
in Spain we receive quite a number of complaints about different types of
problems that people have had with their property. And those can range from
people who’ve just been frankly rather foolish, who haven’t done their
homework, to the cases of people who’ve been involved in administrative
muddle, in differences of view between two authorities and people can get
caught in the middle. Now we try to do what we can to help people who seem
to be the victims of some sort of systemic problem, we do have a lot of
contact with the authorities in Spain from ministerial level down through
the regional authorities. What we can’t do, because we don’t have the
resources and we don’t have the expertise, is take up individual cases
because every case is different and there are hundreds, even thousands, of
And corruption, yes there has been corruption in certain cases but steering
a course through all of this is really quite difficult and again my strong
advice would be to anyone who was thinking of buying a property in Spain, do
do your homework, do get independent advice, do find out from a lawyer who
understands the planning system, understands property laws, what the
situation of your particular property is before you put your money in.
As regards the Spanish response to the European Parliament report then yes
I’m aware of the report, I know that the Spanish are considering it, I don’t
know what their response is going to be.
Winifred Robinson: They’ve had four years to consider it.
Giles Paxman: Well it’s, it’s a complicated issue.
Winifred Robinson: How severe do you think the public spending cuts in
Spain are going to be?
Giles Paxman: Spain’s already embarked on really quite a major programme of
fiscal adjustment, spending cuts, and also some tax rises. For example VAT
has just gone up by two per cent in Spain, there are big cuts taking place
in civil service pay, the cuts in some of the other services that are being
offered by the Government.
Winifred Robinson: How do you think that will affect people who’ve chosen
to live there or to buy property there?
Giles Paxman: Well it really depends on where their income is coming from.
If they’re, for example, living on an income from the UK, if they’re living
on a UK pension or if they’re living on funds that they’ve invested
elsewhere, then that income shouldn’t be affected. I think the people who
may be affected are British people who have gone out to work, possibly
supporting the tourist industry running hotels, bars, restaurants or
whatever, and obviously if there, if there is a decline in demand for their
services then they will find their income affected.
Winifred Robinson: How have the Spanish taken ongoing severe austerity
cuts? Is it like Greece? Do you think there will be riots and that that
will put tourists off?
Giles Paxman: Well so far we’ve seen some demonstrations; we certainly
haven’t seen any riots. There is a lot of concern and obviously when
governments have to cut back then this hits people’s pockets, but we haven’t
yet seen any violence.
Winifred Robinson: And is tourism generally holding up then?
Giles Paxman: Tourism has declined recently, it declined last year, some,
there’s some anecdotal evidence that tourism has, has actually been
increasing this year, but certainly it’s not at the peak levels that we were
seeing three or four years ago.
Winifred Robinson: So what would you say the overall decline has been? Any
Giles Paxman: I guess that the total amount would have been fourteen,
fifteen million last year. The peak that we reached was seventeen million.
What’s interesting from our point of view is that although there has been a
decline in the volume of tourists to Spain we haven’t really seen a
significant decline in the number of consular cases that we’re having to
deal with and the amount of assistance that we’re having to provide. And I
think there are number of reasons for that. People are travelling in
different ways. Whereas in the past more people would tend to travel with a
tour operator and therefore have the protection of their tour operator and
their tour operator’s representatives, now what tends to happen is that
people more and more will book on line, they’ll book a cheap flight on line,
they’ll book a hotel on line, sometimes all in accommodation, and these
people who are travelling without tour operators tend to be a little more
exposed, a little bit more vulnerable. Travellers now tend to have a little
bit less money than they had a couple of years ago and because of that they
can find themselves getting in to difficulties more easily.
What we would say to people is do, do please take out travel insurance
before you travel, not just to Spain but to anywhere in the world. And it’s
surprising that one in five people still don’t do that. And there was a
recent study that showed that when people go to the airport they spend on
average about twelve pounds buying newspapers and magazines for the flight,
now that’s about double the cost of a single trip travel insurance. I know
what I think would be the best value. If you don’t get travel insurance, if
you find yourself in difficulty abroad, wherever it may be, you can find
bills running up to tens of thousands of pounds, so please, please get
travel insurance before you go.
Winifred Robinson: You mentioned the consular cases , the number of
problems that you’re having to deal with, and the latest Foreign Office
report says that Spain tops the list; you had to deal with five thousand two
hundred and eighty three cases last year. Could you tell me then what are
the most common problems, is it just what you’ve been describing, lack of
Giles Paxman: We do have a big volume of cases, we do have the, the biggest
volume in the world but that’s because we have such a high volume of
visitors to Spain. If you think of it thirteen to fifteen million visitors
is an awful lot of people and five thousand cases is not really a very huge
proportion of that thirteen million. By far and away the biggest volume of
cases that we have to deal with, and these are not included in the five
thousand, are people who’ve had their passports lost or stolen, and we get
about six thousand of those every year.
Beyond that we get a huge number of problems that are related in one way or
another to drink or to drugs and these can range from people who die because
they’ve fallen out of hotel windows to people who get arrested. And then we
get quite a lot of cases that are related in one way or another to road
traffic accidents, people who go on holiday then hire a motorbike or a
scooter or something, they’re not used to the vehicle, they’re not used to
the traffic system in Spain, they’re probably not wearing the right sort of
clothing, they’re going off in a bikini top and shorts, and if they fall off
they can get some quite serious injuries.
Winifred Robinson: You talked about drink and drugs. You know that some
people feel that the British abroad are the worst behaved of any tourist.
Do you think that’s fair?
Giles Paxman: I don’t think that’s fair no, and I’m not sure that our
figures show that, it’s very difficult to make a comparison. But we get
something like sixty to sixty five million British visits overseas. That’s
the equivalent of the total population of Britain travelling abroad. When
you look at the number of cases they are relatively small and the vast, vast
majority of British people who travel overseas are extremely well behaved,
they respect local customs. So I don’t think that the majority of British
people are badly behaved when they go abroad .
Winifred Robinson: No but are we worse behaved .
Giles Paxman: . some are foolish .
Winifred Robinson: . than other, are we worse behaved than other, other
Giles Paxman: I think it’s very difficult to make that sort of comparison.
Winifred Robinson: You’re being tactful, diplomatic.
How long have you been living in Spain and when you went to there what most
surprised you about life there?
Giles Paxman: Well I moved to Spain in October. Before that I’d been
Ambassador in Mexico City. First of all there’s quite a lot of similarities
between Spain and Mexico in the way in which the Government works and the
way in which the legal system works. I’m still really discovering Spain and
it is a wonderful destination for tourists; the countryside, the sun, the
food, the beaches. What I have been really pleased to find is how welcoming
the Spanish people have been and how they really do want to get to know you
and to make friends with you and to show you their country and it’s some,
that’s something I’m really looking forward to for the rest of my time
Winifred Robinson: What do you think most surprises people who move out
from the UK?
Giles Paxman: Probably what surprises them is that living in Spain is not
really like travelling to Spain on holiday. Quite a lot of people move to
Spain with a rather rosy eyed view and they think wouldn’t it be nice to get
away from the rain and to move out and live in the sun. Once you get there
you can be living amongst a group of British people and finding it quite
difficult to integrate with the local population. Some people have found
that they’re having increasing financial problems because the pound has gone
down quite a bit against the Euro and so people who are on fixed incomes in
Spain, who are on a state pension in pounds for example, have found it more
difficult to make ends meet which, again, is another reason for doing your
homework and that you understand what the local customs and traditions are
going to require of you while you’re there.
Winifred Robinson: Have you got really great Spanish?
Giles Paxman: My Spanish was Mexican Spanish, I’m now converting it to
Spanish Spanish, but it’s pretty good yes, I mean I do, I do all my work in
Spanish so, yes.
Winifred Robinson: Why do you think that the British do find it so
difficult to learn Spanish, to learn any language I suppose?
Giles Paxman: I think one of the difficulties is that so many people speak
English and one of the most frustrating things when you’re trying to learn a
language is trying to speak to someone from another country in their
language and they reply to you in, in fluent English.
Winifred Robinson: How did you get over it?
Giles Paxman: The thing to do is to, is to lose your inhibitions and plunge
in and just remember that it’s not like being at school, it’s not like
learning French at school, you won’t get rapped over the knuckles if you, if
you get it wrong. Just plunge in and do it and people will be absolutely
delighted if you make the effort to speak their language and, and they will
respond in kind.
And that concluded the interview!
Transcript sourced from http://www.fco.gov.uk
August 17, 2010 at 1:02 pm #100350
Mark, I know you’ve been on holiday but concentrate now…..you posted this last month in the general forum section.
Or did Paxman give another interview and repeat verbatim the same rubbish? 🙂
August 17, 2010 at 7:58 pm #100354
Oops. My mistake. Holidays make the brain go soft.
August 17, 2010 at 8:44 pm #100355
I think for journalistic purposes maybe, Mark has taken the substances that the Ambassador refered to.
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