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Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Fifth Report


Work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in South Africa

150. The United Kingdom's representation in South Africa is one of the largest British Posts in the world, reflecting the country's size and importance, both bilaterally and within the region. Like most Posts it has a number of different responsibilities for a number of different areas, such as consular work, visa entry clearance and promoting trade and investment with the UK. This is in addition to the Post's purely political work and the promotion of wider bilateral links. The BBC World Service and the British Council (the FCO's two largest agencies) also have significant 'regional hubs' in South Africa.

151. There are four principal FCO offices in South Africa: the High Commission in Pretoria; the Consulate-General in Cape Town, where the South African Parliament and the largest body of British expatriates are located; the United Kingdom Trade and Investment (UKTI) Office in Johannesburg; and the Consulate General in Durban, which will handle purely trade matters from the middle of this year. There are also two Honorary Consulates in Port Elizabeth and East London. The figures for staff numbers are given in the table below, with comparisons to diplomatic representation of other nations.

Figure 5: diplomatic representation in South Africa
UK-based staff Locally-engaged staff
Pretoria

Johannesburg

Cape Town

Durban

36

6

4

1

122

29

17

10

United Kingdom total47 178
France30 20
Germany47 39
USA250 450

Source: FCO[209]

152. In his oral evidence to us, Mr Mullin stated that:

There is a review of all our operations going on at the moment so it would be very rash of me to make too many long-term commitments, but I do expect our staffing in South Africa to remain broadly as it is for the foreseeable future.[210]

The Minister was referring to an internal review of staffing and resources worldwide currently being conducted by the Foreign Office, in the light of its new strategy: "UK International Priorities."[211] We recommend that, in the light of the importance of the United Kingdom's relationship with South Africa and the crucial work being done by the Post there, the level of staffing and resources allocated to the United Kingdom High Commission in South Africa be at the very least maintained, if not increased, in the long-term.

Consular work

153. Like all Posts overseas, one of the prime responsibilities of the British High Commission in South Africa is to offer assistance to United Kingdom nationals travelling and working there. The figures below illustrate the scale of some of the work this section of the High Commission undertakes (all figures are approximate):

154. The consular section of the High Commission employs five UK-based officers and eighteen locally-engaged staff, in Pretoria and Cape Town. In addition to the work outlined in the figures above, the staff undertake hospital and prison visits, and offer assistance to the families of British nationals who have died while in South Africa. In 2002, the High Commission was closely involved with the provision of assistance to British tourists affected by the Piet Retief coach crash in Mpumalanga province, in which five Britons were killed.[214] This incident illustrated the vital importance of having competent staff on the ground, with good local knowledge, who can respond quickly to crises as they arise.

Visa entry clearance

155. Although South Africans do not require prior entry clearance to visit the United Kingdom, this is necessary if they intend to work or settle, do. Last year, the High Commission in Pretoria (which handles all the Post's visa work) dealt with around 29,335 visa applications, of which 93.1% were approved. [215] The Visa Section currently consists of one Entry Clearance Manager (ECM), five Entry Clearance Officers (ECOs) and twenty-two locally-engaged staff.

156. As the table below indicates, last year the Post met all three of the Public Service Agreement (PSA) targets set for it:

Figure 6: performance of the High Commission in South Africa against PSA targets for visa entry clearance work
PSA Target Actual
Tier 1 and Tier 2 (straightforward non-settlement/residence applications) resolved within 24 hours. 90%92%
Average waiting time for a Tier 3 (non-settlement applications) interview. 10 working daysOne day
Average waiting time for a Tier 4 (settlement applications) interview 12 weeksOne week

Source: FCO[216]

157. Last year, the Post saw an increase of 28% in the number of applications it dealt with compared to the previous year.[217] This reflected the steady increase in demand for United Kingdom visas seen across the world.[218] The Post attributed the increase in demand it had experienced, in part, to South Africa rejoining of the Commonwealth in 1994. Since that time, South Africans have been able to apply for working holidaymaker (WHM) visas—these allow Commonwealth citizens aged between 17 and 30 to come to the United Kingdom for an extended holiday of up to two years, during which time they can seek employment to support themselves. They can also apply for permit-free employment on the grounds of British ancestry.

158. The FCO's entry clearance operations worldwide are run by UKVisas, which is managed by the FCO and the Home Office jointly.[219] In its memorandum, the FCO noted that, as from 13 November 2003:

South African nationals will be affected by the United Kingdom Government's implementation of the EU-wide Residence Permits scheme, i.e. those who wish to stay in the United Kingdom for more than six months will need to apply for Entry Clearance before arrival.

Based on IND [Immigration and Nationality Directorate[220]] statistics for the number of South African nationals admitted to the United Kingdom in 2001-2 for more than 6 months, we estimate that this change in policy will generate around 19,000 visa applications in the first year following its introduction. UKVisas have agreed the additional deployment of 3 locally-engaged staff.[221]

The FCO told us that: "Additional staff and resources will be deployed if necessary."[222]

159. We recommend that UK Visas continue to monitor closely the demands on staff and resources at the United Kingdom High Commission in South Africa resulting from the increasing numbers of entry clearance applications being received there. We further recommend that, in its response to this Report, the FCO set out what extra resources and personnel have been allocated to visa entry clearance work in South Africa since 2003.

Trade and investment (UKTI)

160. As noted above (paragraph 38), the UK's commercial relationship with South Africa is a very significant one, with over £5 billion in two-way trade each year.[223] The main focus of the FCO's commercial work in the country is the UKTI offices in Johannesburg, which employs around 35 staff (locally-engaged and UK-based). Commercial work is also carried out at the posts in Durban and Cape Town. In an average year, the Post sees over 500 visiting United Kingdom business people and assists 12-15 trade missions and 4-5 visiting exhibition groups.[224]

161. Between 1998 and 2000 the FCO ran a major campaign, entitled 'Britain and South Africa: Partners in Opportunity', to raise awareness in the United Kingdom of the opportunities in the South African market. In recent years, particular emphasis has been placed on helping United Kingdom companies take advantage of opportunities arising from the South African privatisation programme and Public Private Partnerships (PPPs). These include opportunities in the water, airports, ports, healthcare, telecommunications and railways sectors.

162. One of the most significant recent commercial undertakings between South Africa and the United Kingdom was the contract won by BAe Systems to supply 52 aircraft to South Africa, with which UKTI was closely involved.[225] The contract is worth around £1.5 billion to BAe. While the purchase has not proved to be without controversy,[226] we were pleased to note the 'offset' commitment negotiated as part of the deal. This promises to deliver much-needed additional investment in South Africa of nearly £5.5 billion. Both Governments are monitoring the delivery of this commitment closely, and at present BAe appears to be on track to meet its commitments.

163. During our inquiry, witnesses from British companies that operated in South Africa gave very positive reports of the work of UKTI. One stated that they had been "extremely helpful," and "very knowledgeable."[227] Another told that us that:

From our point of view they have been very, very supportive in South Africa. We had a lot of contact with them; they have provided us with leads, with contacts and been very supportive ...

I believe that they do create an environment which enables us to get access to key decision makers within government.[228]

164. These views were echoed by nearly all the business people we met while visiting Johannesburg and Cape Town earlier this year. They had all received valuable assistance from staff at the High Commission, who had developed expertise in a wide range of business sectors.

165. We conclude that the trade and investment section of the High Commission in South Africa is performing to a high standard in assisting British businesses to operate there and exploit new opportunities.

British Council

166. The British Council has a significant presence in South Africa. Its memorandum for this inquiry stats that the Council's aims in the country are to:

167. The Council works though a main office in Johannesburg, which we saw during our recent visit, and three smaller offices in Pretoria, Cape Town and Durban. It receives around £2.35 million per annum in Grant-in-Aid from the FCO, with extra funding coming from other sources.[230] This represents the budget for the whole Southern African region of the British Council, though, which also includes Botswana, Lesotho, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia and Swaziland. There are currently five UK-based staff in the South African office, and thirty-seven locally engaged personnel.

168. As its memorandum notes, the British Council runs a number of schemes in South Africa. One of the most important of these is its 'training for change' programme. This involves a variety of initiatives, including working with the South African Department of Education, overseeing university and schools links and the management of the Chevening scholarships.[231] Given the difficulties South Africa is facing at present in the field of education, particularly further education, it is clear that the work of the British Council in this area is extremely valuable and greatly appreciated. We were pleased to note that Mr Paterson, of Macmillan Publishers, believed the "Council's reputation is very good in South Africa."[232] This was echoed by the other interlocutors whom we met while in South Africa.

169. We were concerned, however, to hear that one witness had been informed, that the Chevening scholarships, which are managed by the British Council, might be "reduced in number, [and] that the higher educational links might be discontinued."[233] However, when questioned on this matter, Mr Mullin assured us that he was unaware of any planned cuts and that the number of scholarships available to South Africans was anticipated to be broadly similar to previous years. The Minister subsequently, in a written answer to the House, provided details of the number of scholarships awarded between 2000 and 2004 on a country-by-country basis. [234] As can be seen from the table below, the number of scholars from Southern Africa has been relatively stable.

Figure 7: Chevening scholarships awarded in Southern Africa, 2000/01-03/04
Country2000/01 2002/032003/04
Botswana4 68
Lesotho2 64
Mauritius6 57
Mozambique6 64
Namibia4 66
South Africa 3126 33
Swaziland3 64

Source: FCO[235]

170. The myriad of active non-governmental organisations which flourished in the apartheid era, particularly in the townships, provided much of the grass roots democratic infrastructure at the time, representing the majority of South Africans. The British Government, at least in the later years of the apartheid regime, had a creditable role in funding and generally encouraging their work. It is still of importance that such Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) continue to work as intermediary bodies, as checks and balances, against any authoritarian temptations of government. They should be encouraged and their leaders given appropriate help and training.

171. We conclude that the British Council is carrying out very important work in South Africa, both in promoting a deeper relationship between the two nations and in providing crucial educational support to the South African Government. We are also convinced that the Chevening scholarship scheme is a vital part of the British Council's work, and a very important way in which the United Kingdom can influence future decision-makers. We recommend that the FCO give serious consideration to increasing the number of scholarships available to South Africans in the near future.

172. We further recommend that the British Council continue actively to support civic organisations and to train their leadership.

BBC World Service

173. The BBC World Service (BBC WS) operates its Africa news-gathering co-ordination centre for radio and TV from Johannesburg. It is one of the Service's seven major 'hubs' located round the world and provides news coverage for World Service radio, BBC World television and the BBC's International Facing Online News Site.[236] During our visit to Johannesburg, we were glad to be able to visit the Bureau and meet some of the staff who work there.

174. The BBC WS's Bureau in Johannesburg is very active, producing a wide variety of high-quality, informative programmes for both radio and television. For example, 'Focus on Africa', which offers evening news and analysis from the region, and the recently-launched Africa Live programme that encourages listeners to interact with the broadcasters by phone, e-mail and text message with comments on specific African issues and problems.

175. In its memorandum to our inquiry, the BBC WS noted that it had a comparatively small radio and TV audience in South Africa, where there is strong local market competition.[237] However, a number of its news items, both radio and TV, are now being re-broadcast by the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), and some other companies, which has helped to increase its profile. We were particularly pleased to note that the BBC WS had replaced CNN in providing selected news items to SABC 3.[238]

176. During our visit to the Bureau, we raised the issue of broadcasts in Swahili by the BBC WS in Africa. The BBC WS estimated that there are approximately 100 million speakers of Swahili in Africa, of whom about 25 million speak it as their first language.[239] At present, the World Service transmits five programmes a day in Swahili for a total of two hours and twenty minutes (two hours and two and a half hours on Saturday and Sunday respectively).[240] It is estimated that these programmes attract an audience of approximately 18.4 million people (primarily in the DRC, Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda).

177. We questioned the World Service as to whether, in light of the large number of Swahili speakers and the competition from other national radio services, this was sufficient. We were reassured, however, that despite rival services being offered by a number of other providers, the BBC WS was still attracting larger audiences in the three countries with the largest Swahili-speaking populations than its two "traditional competitors"—Deutsche Welle (Voice of Germany) and Voice of America (VOA). These figures are set out in the table below:

Figure 8: Percentage of total adult population listening to broadcasts in Swahili in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda
Broadcaster KenyaTanzania Uganda
BBC World Service 3159.8 7.5
Deutsche Welle 857 1
Voice of America 728 1

Source: BBC World Service

178. In response to our question as to whether the World Service had any plans to make changes to its Swahili service in the near future, the BBC WS replied that it was, "planning to improve its audibility still further by increasing the number of FM transmissions in most of the target areas especially Southern Tanzania and other major towns in Kenya."[241]

179. We conclude that the BBC World Service's Bureau in Johannesburg is carrying out excellent work in producing high-quality and informative programmes for both radio and television. We recommend that the Bureau continue to be given the funding it needs to carry on this important work. We further recommend that the BBC World Service give serious consideration to increasing the resources it allocates to its Swahili service in the future.

Estate management

180. An issue that this Committee has addressed on a number of occasions in recent years, has been that of the FCO's asset recycling programme. In our report on the Office's 2003 Annual Report we stated that:

The Foreign Office's overseas estate consists of over 4,300 properties. Although 70% of these are leased, the Office still owned assets worth approximately £960 million worldwide as at March 2002. Since 1998, the FCO, in agreement with HM Treasury, has been engaged in an 'asset recycling programme', under which future investment, primarily in ICT [Information and Computer Technology] and the estate, is funded by the sale of FCO property at home and abroad. The process involves the Office identifying and selling properties that have become, "surplus through re-prioritisation, or which are not operationally effective or good value for money." ...

We conclude that there are very grave concerns about the long-term impact the asset recycling programme is having on the FCO's overseas estate. There is a real danger that, in its attempts to take full advantage of the scheme agreed with HM Treasury, the Foreign Office is selling properties below their real value in order to meet a short-term target. [242]

181. Given our deep concern about the long-term viability of the asset recycling programme, we were very disappointed to hear from Mr Mullin, therefore, that the FCO is actively considering selling the High Commissioner's Residence in Cape Town.[243] This is a large and very attractive property that can accommodate a wide variety of functions—conferences, hosting visiting delegations, receptions, etc. While visiting Cape Town, we attended a reception at the Residence held to mark the opening of the South African Parliament for a new session. The event attracted a large number of senior opinion formers, including several Government ministers, and it was clear that the location had played an important part in making the event such a success. We strongly recommend that the FCO does not repeat the gross error it has made in so many other locations of exchanging a valuable and appreciating property—the High Commissioner's Residence in Cape Town—which is clearly greatly assisting the promotion of United Kingdom interests, for rapidly depreciating ICT assets.


209   Ev 76 Back

210   Q 223 Back

211   FCO, United Kingdom International Priorities: A Strategy for the FCO, Cm 6052, December 2003 Back

212   For information, the largest ten British expatriate communities are: Canada - 3.2 million; Hong Kong - 3 million; Australia - 2 million; USA - 1.2 million; South Africa - 750,000; Spain - 620,019; New Zealand - 400,000; Republic of Ireland - 375,000; France - 130,000; and Italy - 60,000 (all figures approximate). Back

213   Ev 78, annex D Back

214   "Fifth SA bus Briton dies", BBC News, 31 October 2002 Back

215   Ev 77, annex C [FCO] Back

216   Ev 78, annex C [FCO] Back

217   Ev 78, annex C Back

218   FCO, Foreign & Commonwealth Office Departmental Report 2003, Cm 5913, p 123 Back

219   For further information, see: www.ukvisas.gov.uk. Back

220   The Immigration and Nationality Directorate is an agency of the Home Office. It is responsible for immigration control at air and sea ports throughout the United Kingdom and for considering applications for permissions to stay, citizenship and asylum. For further information, see: www.ind.homeoffice.gov.uk. Back

221   Ev 78, annex C, paras 7-8 Back

222   Ibid., para 9 Back

223   Ev 71, para 45 [FCO] Back

224   IbidBack

225   Ev 72, paras 49 and 51 Back

226   See, for example: Ev 122 [CAAT]; and Ev 131 [Corner House]. Back

227   Q 138 [Paterson] Back

228   QQ 137-138 [Roe] Back

229   Ev 102 Back

230   IbidBack

231   Chevening scholarships, are funded by the FCO and administered by the British Council. They enable overseas students to study in the United Kingdom. The scholarships are named after the Foreign Secretary's official country residence: Chevening House. For further details, see: www.chevening.com. Back

232   Q 153 Back

233   Q 11 [Simon] Back

234   HC Deb, 18 March 2004, 415W Back

235   IbidBack

236   Ev 126. The other six centres are in: Delhi; Singapore; Jerusalem; Washington; Moscow; and Brussels. Back

237   IbidBack

238   IbidBack

239   Ibid. The exact number of Swahili speakers is, however, not completely clear. Ethnologue, for example estimates that Swahili is spoken by 5 million people as their first language, and by 30 million as their second. For further details, see: www.ethnologue.com/show_language.asp?code =SWA. Back

240   Ev 130 [BBC WS] Back

241   IbidBack

242   Twelfth Report of Session 2002-03, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Annual Report 2003, HC 859, paras 57 and 64 Back

243   QQ 224-5 Back


 
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