Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 59)



Mr Mackinlay

  40. Why is it difficult?
  (Mr Green) Because as soon as you announce the fact that you are thinking about closing a particular country then it creates all sorts of uncertainty and insecurity and also a lot of adverse publicity.

  41. They might get onto Members of Parliament might they not?
  (Mr Green) Limited consultation in terms of the overall configuration of the geographical priorities, but extensive consultation where that has been possible in development of our sector programmes. The other thing we have looked at is what we should be doing in the arts, in governance, in science and very extensive consultation in those areas.

  42. Have you estimated the costs of retraining your existing staff to redeploy them to these vacancies, the cost in both time and resources?
  (Mr Fotheringham) I do not have that separate figure. We are looking at transition costs in terms of our human resources. This would include redundancy payments, contribution to pension schemes, it would include counselling and outplacement. We are looking at a total figure over the five years of £18.6 million.

  43. You have not divided it up between those different categories.
  (Mr Fotheringham) I do not have that figure with me now.

  44. But you could provide us with a rough breakdown.
  (Mr Fotheringham) Yes. As you can imagine at this stage it is a fairly rough estimate.

  45. I understand that.
  (Mr Fotheringham) A point which is worth making about the strategy is that it is not a blueprint and it may yet be that things will change. At this point, this is what we estimate the costs, at that scale of change in our staff profile which is a global figure. We are looking at 20 per cent of our staff globally, it is not a UK number; it was 20 per cent.

Mr Rowlands

  46. Twenty per cent of your staff are going to be made redundant.
  (Mr Green) Yes, this was our estimate of the number of staff who would be affected by the changes.

Dr Starkey

  47. When you say "affected" by the changes, do you mean made redundant.
  (Mr Fotheringham) Yes.

  48. So there will be others who will be moved.
  (Mr Fotheringham) There will be others, probably another 20 per cent will be retrained and that is an important part of the programme. We have a commitment to spend three per cent of our budget on staff development and training and that is part of our human resources strategy for the period.

  49. It would be quite helpful if we could have that breakdown subsequent to this meeting.
  (Mr Fotheringham) Yes.

  50. You said you have offices in the UK at the moment in London and in Manchester. Is the Council actually responding to devolution within the UK since both of those are actually in England? What relationship have you established with the devolved executives in Scotland and Wales?
  (Mr Green) In addition we have offices in Edinburgh, in Cardiff and in Belfast and have had for many years. We have done a great deal in relation to devolution and because we were there already we were able to keep ahead of the game. We have built up very strong partnerships with arts organisations such as the Scottish Arts Council, the Arts Council of Wales and we have built partnerships with those bodies, also with Scottish Trade International and with those bodies involved in education. We take very seriously the business of making our staff aware of issues related to devolution and they have access to ready and up-to-date information on issues relating to devolution, not least because there is tremendous interest in it around the world.

Mr Rowlands

  51. May I just clarify to make sure I got the figures right? Twenty per cent of your staff are actually going to be made redundant and another twenty per cent are going to be redeployed through retraining. Is that right?
  (Mr Fotheringham) Correct.

  52. So the impact of this structural change as a whole is on 40 per cent of the staff of the Council.
  (Mr Fotheringham) I anticipate we may also need to recruit a number of staff with different skills from those we have now. The total staff profile will change as we bring in people who have skills in marketing, in public relations, in other areas of work where we currently do not have those skills.

  53. That does sound quite a substantial upheaval in every sense.
  (Mr Fotheringham) It is a very substantial change.
  (Mr Green) We must not underestimate that. Clearly a number of those relate to the closures of countries and closures of offices.

  54. We have already dwelt for quite a while on some of the geographical priorities. I know my colleagues will want to chase one or two of those. May I just chase the African one further? We have taken quite a lot of evidence from you on it. I understood, and this Committee has received evidence before on the collapse of the DFID programmes and the contracts you had which really left rather a big hole in your budget on the African scene, did they not? DFID went for a strategy for the poorest; they redefined their strategy. Why did The British Council not go with that strategy? Why are you in a sense turning your backs on the poor of Africa in that sense? You told me you were going for opinion formers and the top-notchers. I understand that. But if DFID went to the poorest, why did you not go with them and see your role as helping the poorest as well?
  (Mr Green) I do not want to give the impression that we are ignoring the poorest, and our services would be open to anybody. In terms of where we think we can add the greatest value to the efforts of DFID, to the efforts of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, it is by targeting younger professional people who are likely to become the next generation of leaders and people in positions of influence. We think that by encouraging them to look at issues to do with governance and democratisation and through connecting them with people in the UK, we can make a particular contribution through cultural relations. That is very much our niche.

  55. When you have these DFID projects you and DFID went into villages; The British Council was taken with DFID into the countryside, into communities, which would otherwise never see British Council in action. That is what is lost as a result of DFID's change and your focusing on the opinion formers.
  (Mr Green) Where we were doing that was through a funded ODA, as it was then, project. I have seen many of them in my life in Kenya and all over Africa where we were working in villages, but they were education projects funded by DFID, working with the Ministry of Education in those countries and we were the managing agents for DFID. We were not doing that through our grant-in-aid.

  56. No, but DFID have not cut their budgets, they have gone and reorientated their budgets to the poorest. Why have you not been detaching British Council work to the new strategy and the new poverty strategy orientated DFID programmes?
  (Mr Green) Because the decision DFID has made is to work directly with those ministries rather than through an intermediary agency. Therefore we have in effect not got the option of doing that. We should very much like to do that and to work very much in support of them, but they have taken the view that actually it is going to be more effective in the long term to work directly with those ministries.
  (Mr Fotheringham) I was mentioning too the transfer of our grant-in-aid from DFID to the FCO. Our objectives relate to those of the FCO, so if we look at our purpose statement, which is to enhance the UK's reputation as a valued partner, that leads us principally to work with the decision makers and opinion formers.

  Mr Rowlands: You have also moved from west to east. The British Council has moved from west to east in European terms.

Mr Mackinlay

  57. You said your priorities were like the FCO's and your grant-in-aid. How does that work? Do you relate to a particular Minister? Do you have face-to-face meetings with Ministers about these priorities or was it done at administrative level, management level?
  (Mr Green) The Minister with responsibility for The British Council within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is Baroness Scotland, but we have other Ministers.

  58. I know who is responsible but how often do you meet her or when is the interface? Is there a big discussion about priorities in the world at ministerial level?
  (Mr Green) There are several interfaces. Certainly I would meet with Baroness Scotland probably every six months.

  59. With your Chairman?
  (Mr Green) Yes, I have met with Baroness Kennedy and Baroness Scotland.

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