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Parliamentary Committee Gives the FCO a Kicking

April 13, 2012

The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee has just put out its latest report on the work of the Foreign Office, the BBC World Service and the British Council.

The headline is that the Committee is impressed with the job that the FCO has done given that they don’t have any money.

Many of the specific points in the report won’t surprise readers of this blog

On the cuts

In this context, we conclude that the lack of detail provided by the FCO and the BBC World Service as to exactly how the spending reductions target set by SR2010 will be met is disappointing. While there is no doubt that meeting the targets set by the Spending Review will be challenging and will require much planning and forethought, it is equally disappointing that the FCO has not yet planned how a reduction of £40 million, or over one-third, of its programme spending will be achieved

Translation: ‘The FCO won’t tell us how it’s going to meet its financial targets and we suspect it’s because they haven’t got a clue.’

The FCO is trying to reshape its network of posts without incurring an overall cost by selling existing building and buying new ones in priority areas

We conclude that the FCO’s internal target of achieving £60 million of assets sales per year, and reinvesting this sum back into the overseas network, must be considered extremely optimistic; for this target to be reached, the FCO will need to sell, every year of the spending review period, properties with a total value three times the total value of those properties sold in 2009-10. We believe that the FCO will not be able to reach this target without inflicting serious damage on its overseas network.

Translation: ‘We don’t believe you can do this’

 The “Diplomatic Excellence” programme, and the consequent emphasis on increased skills for UK diplomats, is welcome. However, we question whether it will be able to reverse the long-term trend for the FCO to emphasise “management” over “traditional” diplomatic skills.

If you read the reports from the FCO to the committee appended to the report you will certainly get the impression that managerialism is alive at well at the FCO

The committee is unimpressed with efforts to save money by reducing overseas postings for younger diplomats by relying more on locally engaged staff, combined with the FCO encouraging staff to take secondments to the European External Action Service the result will be a smaller and less capable service.

The committee also echoes points made here about the future of the BBC World Service  and the British Council as parts of the UK public diplomacy effort

‘Public diplomacy’ and ‘strategic communication’  don’t get a mention anywhere in the report although soft power comes up in a couple of the evidence sessions.

Despite the headline the report is less than optimistic about the state of UK’s foreign policy capability.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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