Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80
TUESDAY 7 MAY 2002
80. I have one quick one on that issue. Do you
not think that the Net and all this IT based stuff starts to dissipate
the Britishness of the British Council?
(Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) I went into this with
the same sort of scepticism because I happen to believe that the
great strength of the British Council is about making the people
to people contact, that it is all about connection between people,
and if you do it online it is never the same. For me it would
not be the same. The interesting thing is you use it as an enhancer
of that stuff that the British Council has traditionally been
doing and the Britishness does not get lost because you use it
as another tool in that wonderful work that the British Council
81. I want to go to a question not directly
linked to the Madrassa schools. I think you used the words "national
identity" and I want to come back to the Connecting Futures
initiative. The British Council has offices in East Jerusalem,
Gaza, Hebron, Nablus and Ramallah. How have operations in the
West Bank and Gaza been affected by recent events in the region?
(Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) The reality is that
it is not possible to function at the moment.
82. Closed down, finished?
(Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) None of our people
left, all of our people are there. It is a source of pride to
us that through September 11 and the whole period afterwards in
all those Islamic countries where in many places, let me assure
you, other organisations and institutions or whatever pulled people
out, our people stayed in there. They were given a choice but
most of them stayed in their places, in fact I do not know anybody
who did not, because they believe that we are there for the long-term
and that trust meant we were not attacked or anything. There we
are on the West Bank and our people cannot function. In the building
in Ramallah five people were killed. We are on a different floor
but on the floor below five people were shot. We have had horrible
experiences and our people have had a very, very rough time seeing
up close what has been happening but they have stayed there. We
cannot teach, we cannot do any of the things that we do, the infrastructure
has been sorely damaged and there is a great deal of distress
about how the operation has been undermined by the events.
Mr Olner: It would perhaps be useful for the
Committee to have a short written comment on those difficulties
that you have just outlined.
83. And the work in the West Bank generally.
(Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) We would be really
happy to do that for you.
One of our colleagues in the Secretariat is just about to go out
there to work and does not know whether there will be a job to
Sir John Stanley
84. Baroness Kennedy, in the last Parliament
you were conspicuously successful in persuading Treasury ministers
to bring about a substantial increase in real terms in the funding
going to the British Council and in that, as you will remember,
you were strongly supported by this Committee. In the last spending
round, however, the Treasury knocked back your bid very significantly.
What was the reason for that? Has there been a change of view
in terms of the Treasury's willingness to support the British
(Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) I am going to ask
for further and better particulars. When you say that the Treasury
knocked us back, I am sorry but I am not sure that I follow what
you are saying.
85. Our own staff told us that the British Council
only received about a third of the funds that it asked for from
the Treasury in the last Spending Review. Are we correctly advised
or wrongly advised?
(Mr Green) We did not get the full amount of our bid
last time around but we received a 9.1 per cent real term increase.
(Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) Which
was the big increase that you have spoken of. We have not not
received the amount that we were promised. I think it is maybe
not reading as
86. We will explore that further with our staff
if we may. As of now you take the view that the Treasury is going
to be hopefully as supportive of the British Council in this Parliament
as it was in the last?
(Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) One always lives in
hope, Sir John, as you know. I suspect that we will be battling
with many others because there are particular pressures on the
Treasury given domestic commitments, but I suspect even on the
bit that will be allocated for things overseas a lot of that budget
will be going to the Ministry of Defence and we understand that
there will be quite a large call on security for embassies in
places. You see it in our applications for the Spending Review
and we say in fact on the arguments for the work that we do, strengthening
dialogue, strengthening connections between people, that if ever
there was a time for doing it it is now and, therefore, not a
time for reducing money. We are hoping that our arguments will
still be heard with sympathetic ears, particularly where we are
putting up at the top of our Spending Review application the need
for more money for work in those parts of the world where clearly
there are issues. The Islamic world clearly feels very dislocated
from the West on many fronts and we feel that we should be doing
much more in trying to make bridges for better dialogue. We also
feel that Africa cannot be left behind and you will see that we
have made a special argument for funding for the things that we
specifically can do better than anybody for Africa. We are hoping
that those arguments will fall on sympathetic ears particularly.
87. Can you just clarify within the overall
bid which you have made, which is obviously a substantial one,
a significant real terms increase over each of the three financial
years, how much of that has been necessitated by your increased
(Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) You will find that
it is not a significant amount at all.
(Mr Green) Three million.
(Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) If you look on the
(Mr Green) It is three million in the first year.
(Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) I wonder if colleagues
have received this?
88. No. Certainly we have not seen it.
(Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) We had this sent to
all Members of Parliament. It is a Spending Review outline. On
the back page it breaks down what our arguments are for different
sums of money. You will see that security is our lowest, three
million. One of the things
Sir John Stanley
89. May I say that it is very helpful to have
that break down.
(Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) We have created this
booklet. We are very good at inexpensively creating in-house desktop
publishing, we are proud of the fact that we can do it so inexpensively,
and it is one of our great strengths. We thought it would be useful
for everyone to see simply what the arguments are for our proposals
and the sums of money and why we feel it is not, if you like,
an over-egging of our application.
90. Can I ask you about a specific area which
is a very important activity worldwide for the British Council
which is supporting English language, people wishing to acquire
the English language. In that area I am certainly aware that you
face substantial competition from the Americans, the Canadians,
and in Asia from the Australians. Would I be right in saying that
certainly in Asia in particular the British Council is facing
a losing battle in trying to get British spoken and written English
accepted and increasingly those who are learning English are learning
(Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) We would like to think
that we are still putting up a very strong fight and that we compete
rather well despite the challenges. Is there anything, Andrew,
you want to say on that?
(Mr Fotheringham) Still our centres in places such
as Hong Kong and Singapore remain the most vital of our English
teaching centres around the world. The British Council is recognised
as an exemplar for teaching methodologies and it is seen as a
model which other countries wish to emulate.
(Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) We are
conscious all the time that there is competition coming from other
quarters. One of the things that we have found, for example, in
China too is that there is sometimes a preference for coming to
Britain for English because somehow there is a feeling that the
authentic product must be received from here but it is also about
the way in which the teaching takes place and the quality of the
teaching is very high. We are still able to hold our own but we
are conscious all the time that we are in a very competitive world
91. Do you think that there is a significant
risk taking, say, a five or ten year view that the world will
increasingly standardise outside the UK on American English, American
wording, American spelling? There is plenty of evidence of ever
increasing divergence between American English and British English.
(Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) To be resisted at
all costs. This goes back to some of the questions from other
colleagues about the use of technology. One of the things that
we have as a great strength is that we create our own materials,
our software is wonderful, so it means that people do consider
what is on offer from the British Council as being the best at
what it does. While we still manage to hone that great talent
to be the best at that, even if it is not the cheapest, people
will still come to it because of the quality of what is on offer.
First of all I am not worried about the challenge as long as we
can keep being ahead of the game and you can never rest on your
laurels. The other thing is that challenge will be made about
the homogenisation of language but I do think it should be resisted
and we certainly do resist it in the way that it is taught inside
the British Council. What we find is that people want the real
(Mr Green) Can I just add that the other spin-off
is that because of the fact that we go for the high end of the
market and we try and teach English in the best possible way and
we only employ native English speakers to teach English that also
has the effect of raising the standards of the other English language
teaching bodies, both commercial and state bodies, so it has that
other spin-off benefit as well.
92. India presents very special problems and
perhaps some of the greatest concerns about the quality of spoken
and written English is in respect of India where there are 1.2
billion and rising with good basic English and highly educated
people. Are there any particular problems in India that you can
draw our attention to?
(Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) No, and one of the
wonderful things in India is there is a real sense and a strong
feeling that they know the difference between English English
and American English.
93. Is that just the older generation?
(Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) No, it has been passed
on. There is a very strong sense that people want to speak English
as Shakespeare wrote it, or not quite. Certainly they want to
speak real English. One of the alarm calls from India though,
and I ring this bell to this Committee, is that many young, very
clever Indians are choosing to go to do their PhDs in America
and it is partly because there are such good opportunities on
offer. In January when we had the Science Fair and the Prime Minister
came to open this science festival and all of our great scientists
were there, the Nobel Laureate and so on, we met with lots of
young scientists who came from the universities and different
research institutions and I went to visit some of them as well
as we spread out to do it. That was one of the alarming things,
as you spoke to them and said "where did you do your PhD?"
they had all been to universities all over the length and breadth
of the United States. When you asked them why they said they could
get online, they could get in touch with the University of Minnesota
and would immediately be offered accommodation, some finance and
funding for living there and wonderful research facilities, laboratories
and so on which would not be on offer in India. They are brilliant
young scientists, to collaborate with them would be wonderful
for us and it is a great shame that we are missing them.
94. We are losing out on some of the best IT
people from Bangalore, no doubt to America, so what are we doing
to meet this competition?
(Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) One of the things
that I think we should be doing is speaking to your Committee
with the world of higher education about how we could try to make
offers much more competitive because we are just not able to compete
with the United States.
95. Are we not able to give a package? Are universities
not able to say "here is accommodation, here are sources
of funding, here is the answer to all the practical questions
you are raising"?
(Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) In very, very limited
ways. The numbers of scholarships that are available, as you know,
are very limited. Although efforts go on to try to encourage this
we have to rethink all of that in a much more radical way.
Sir John Stanley
96. Just for the record to clarify my earlier
remark about the Treasury knocking you back by one-third, the
source of that is your own memorandum which was before the Committee
at its evidence session on 30 January 2001 and that covered the
period 2001-02 to 2003-04. Your memorandum says "As you can
see, in the final year of the next Spending Review period the
additional funding which the Council will receive amounts to roughly
a third of the amount which we had originally asked for"
and that year was 2003-04. You apparently asked for £37 million
in that year and the amount awarded was £13 million.
(Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) Probably we were being
too clever for our own good in pointing up that we did not get
all that we had wanted. I remember being very bold the last time
I was here in front of you all and putting sums out as to what
it was that I felt the British Council really needed. It is right
to say that we did not get exactly what I would have said the
Council needed for its remit but we still were very content that
we had a considerable increase on anything we had had before.
To some extent it was putting right a lot of the periods of shortfall,
if you like, where we had not done very well in the past. Of course,
as you see, the money was set out over different periods so in
that period you have referred to in real terms in fact we were
getting a third less than we would have wanted, so of course we
would stamp our feet that we did not get all that was on offer
but we certainly did much better than we had ever done in the
(Mr Green) Can I just add that in real terms we are
still below the figure that the British Council received in 1994-95
before the significant cuts. With this settlement it would bring
us back up to those levels.
97. I just re-emphasise that you said 1994-95.
We want to get the record straight. Thank you very much for that
booklet you have given us. The financial summary is set out very,
very clearly on page 20. Given that Connecting Futures
has an extremely high growth year on year on year, if you are
not successful in getting that money from the Government who is
going to lose out if you keep Connecting Futures? Is that
a big priority?
(Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) It is rather like
Mark Byford said to you earlier, that when you design your aspirations
for the future and you put sums against it then if you do not
get what you had hoped to get you then have to have a whole reconfiguration.
What I would say is we would have to go back to the charts and
to the graphs and try to work out how we could seek to deliver
some of those aspirations on a much tighter budget.
98. So there are no areas already earmarked
within your figures as lower areas of priority, there are no areas
where you think you have been in, done the work and it is time
to move on and leave them?
(Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) The truth is that
is not the case. I walk the corridors here and I am grabbed by
your colleagues who say to me "you are not doing enough in"
and then everybody has got their pet area of the world which they
feel is being sorely neglected. The Caribbean gets very, very
little money and very little out of the resourcing of the British
Council and yet is a place that we should probably be doing more
in. There are other places in the world where our presence is
about doing a certain amount of English language teaching or something
similar but where we have really had to cut it to the bone. In
some places we have pulled out. As you know, over the last period
we have withdrawn from Uruguay and other places.
There are not places where we can say "been there, done that,
let us move on", I think we have been through that and scythed
out what we could. Now we have to say is there any way in which
we could deliver any of this without as much ambition, if you
like, and I think it is a great sadness if we have to curtail
(Mr Green) Having said that, over the
period of the next five years we are going to reallocate £18
million of the grant from low priority activity to high priority
activity, what the Treasury calls "churn". We have looked
very carefully and through the process of the strategy that I
came to talk to this Committee about last year we have done a
very careful review of where we can make most impact and where
we can be most beneficial. We have reorganised and reallocated
our resources as a result of that process.
99. Can I say that "churn" is not
a very in-word. An in-word is on-digital or
(Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) Very manual.
3 Ev 34. Back
Ev 35. Back
Ev 33. Back
Note by Witness: Over the last period we have withdrawn
from Ecuador, Lesotho and Swaziland, not Uruguay. Back