Spending Cuts and the Coordination of UK Public Diplomacy

December 1, 2011

At the end of the last post I commented that it looks like the effort to create a coordinated British public diplomacy strategy has run out of steam. Nick Cull takes the view in some of his writings (eg 2010) that the different elements of public diplomacy advocacy, broadcasting, cultural diplomacy etc have different requirements and time frames and so that left to their own devices they will work independently. Getting effective coordination requires strong leadership. The two post 9/11 official reports on UK Public Diplomacy in 2002 (Wilton) and 2005 (Carter) both pointed to the need for a strategy and better coordination methods. Over the past 18 months there hasn’t been much indication of activity on this front. But what is most notable are the consequences of spending cuts. The BBC World Service will be funded by the BBC rather than by the Foreign Office. The British Council is projecting that by 2015 their grant from the FCO will have declined to 16% of their income. The FCO has found it hard to steer these organization in the past and with declining financial leverage one can only expect that this is going to be even harder. The aftermath of September 2011 (and the invasion of Iraq) gave a huge push to creating a coordinated communications strategy.

In retrospect the current situation parallels the way that the aftermath of the Suez Crisis in 1956 led to major public diplomacy efforts (including a cabinet minister with responsibility for overseas information) which declined as the ‘focusing event’ receded into the past and the economic cycle put pressure on government budgets. It seems that we are seeing a similar cycle.

Cull, N.J. (2010) ‘Speeding the Strange Death of American Public Diplomacy: The George H. W. Bush Administration and the U.S. Information Agency’, Diplomatic History, 34: 47-69. (Accessed November 8, 2011).

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