Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Written evidence submitted by The British Council



  The Council's purpose in South Africa is to:

    —  Enhance the UK's reputation with the authority generation by supporting their transformation agenda.

    —  Demonstrate UK creativity and innovation to the young South Africans who will influence the country's future.

    —  Strengthen civil society though developing access to information and through developing leadership.

  Operating through a main office in Johannesburg and three smaller offices in Pretoria, Cape Town and Durban the Council uses the following income to achieve its purpose, (using 2003-04 figures).

    —  Grant in Aid

      £2.35 million

    —  Higher Education Grant

    £0.224 million

    —  Other income

    £0.881 million

    —  Total

      £3.45 million

  These resources include income from our enterprise activity, our income from managing development contracts for clients and sponsorship or partnership funding. They exclude the operational value of the development contracts we manage on behalf of clients, which adds a further £1.7 million of expenditure through our accounts. Our overall impact in financial terms is therefore £5.15 million. It is important to realise however that the South Africa operation works with four other countries in a unified regional structure.


  These resources support the following programmes in education and training, governance and the arts and science, organised under three thematic campaigns. Each campaign will use all types of Council activity to achieve its goals.

Training for change

  We work in partnership with South African organisations to support education and skills development at all levels to meet the challenges of our changing societies and work at all levels of educational provision.

  We manage a framework agreement with the Department of Education and the Colleges Collaboration Fund (a private sector social investment mechanism) to support national reform in Further Education & Training which accesses Rand 40 million of private sector resource and which has developed long term relationships between South African and UK colleges.

  The school-linking programme has brought more than one hundred and fifty UK and South African schools together and focuses directly on curriculum development and good practice in schools.

  We also manage thirty two university links under the Higher Education Links Scheme, funded by the DfID Higher Education Grant (that will terminate in 2005-06).

  Other areas of activity include assistance to the merging of South African higher education institutions, the development of school leadership and assisting with the institutional development of the South African Higher Education Quality Council and the Qualifications Authority.

  We include in this campaign the offer of UK examination opportunities in South Africa, offering career choice and internationally recognised qualifications to South Africans on a fee-paying basis.

  Finally but prominently we manage the Chevening Scholarships on behalf, and in conjunction with the FCO, to identify and offer postgraduate training to young South African future leaders.

Building our democracies together

  We work in partnership with South African institutions to strengthen and promote good governance, a human rights culture and to generate better democratic participation in our two countries.

  This includes the Strategic Leadership Training Programme for Southern Africa providing leadership training to the South African successor generation, drawing participation from civil society and non-governmental organisations.

  An annual high profile event is UKUZA (United Kingdom Unites with South Africa), a bilateral forum strengthening networks of young politicians, artists, academics and influential personalities from the public, private and civil society sectors, who engage in debate around such issues as identity. The programme achieves a degree of profile that does not target specific sector interests but engenders mutual understanding and common values between people of influence.

  We also manage a Child Rights Project contributing to research dialogue and capacity development in the areas of the rights of the child. This project specifically draws on experience and expertise from Wales through their Children's Commissioner.

  The Access to Information and Whistleblowing Project links South African, UK and Indian civil society and watchdog organisations to promote a more transparent, open and accountable South Africa. The project focuses on two new items of legislation, the Protected Disclosures Act and the promotion of Access to Information Act.

Partners in innovation

  The campaign focuses on showing UK creativity and innovation in the Arts and Sciences, and is the channel through which we achieve wide spread impact on young people in South African society by direct exposure to events, performances and other interactions that bring the vibrancy of UK cultural life to their notice. Examples of such activity follow.

  We send young aspiring South African scientists to the London International Youth Science Forum to meet their UK counterparts and in 2003 are circulating an exhibition celebrating the Discovery of DNA throughout the country.

  We ensure at least one performing arts tour each year focusing particularly on young audiences and have in the last two years provided access to some of the most innovative performers from the UK music scene in rap, hip-hop and other types of product.

  We manage the New Writing Workshops for Radio Drama in partnership with the BBC and the Performing Arts Network of South Africa, developing skills and opportunities in radio drama. In 2003 we also worked with the Encounters Documentary Film Festival to showcase cutting edge UK work.


  Three years ago we started to build a profile in Sport, beginning with the mass appeal Football Nation Exhibition, our participation in the multilateral Dreams and Teams project (developing young people's leadership and coaching skills, including life skills, in several countries) and forming a relationship with key sporting personalities in the country.

  Coincident with the first ever onshore England-South Africa football match in early 2003 we established and mounted an exhibition on sporting relations between the UK and South Africa, documenting in particular the UK role in the anti-apartheid campaigns of the 70s-90s. At the same time we co-ordinated the presentation of over 5,000 different football strips, all donated by English football fans, for distribution to young footballers in disadvantaged communities.

  Fan ambassadorship is now an increasingly important part of our South African programme and we have developed a number of relationships between UK and South African fan groups. As the universal sport football offers a powerful means of building contemporary relationships based on common understanding. Sport is likely to play an increasing role in our programme and will hopefully develop into a full campaign.

Development services

  We manage a varied portfolio of projects on behalf of major donors in South Africa, including DfID, which contribute directly to the social and economic development of the country. Some examples are:

  A seminal pilot project to support HIV/Aids prevention in the penal system in South Africa. Starting with Westville Prison, the largest prison in Southern Africa, and the Kwa-Zulu Natal Correctional Services department we used our global network to access expertise and experience form the Uganda Prisons Service, providing capacity development and skills transfer to South Africa. The evaluation determined the project to be highly successful and it is now expected that the programme will roll out nationally under the auspices of DfID's Safety, Security and Access to Justice programme.

  For 10 years we have managed the British Investment Scheme, funded by DfID and targeting small and medium sized enterprises in the UK and South Africa to promote successful investment and joint ventures to encourage local economic development, income generation and employment in South Africa.

  The Support to Economic Reform Programme also invests in high level capacity development in three key Ministries, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department of Public Enterprises and the National Treasury, making available international experience and expertise to review, assess and reform service delivery within these key institutions.


  In 2000 the British Council corporately implemented a strategy to redistribute its resources according to defined geographical priorities and to transform its impact overseas. In Africa this meant a concentration of resources in two key priority countries, South Africa and Nigeria. In the former our strategy has set out to improve efficiency but also to provide a modern and effective approach to delivering cultural relations impact for the UK. Its key characteristics are the following.


  There are two aspects to integration. The first is how we relate to other UK agencies including our sponsoring department, the FCO, and secondly how we organise ourselves.

  Through the British High Commission, the Council participates in two structures that provide for "joined up" government. The first is the Director's membership of the High Commissioner's regular Board of Management ensuring information transfer and co-ordination among UK agencies working here. The second is participation in the task forces established to keep in touch with priority policy issues for the UK in South Africa. A rewarding consequence of this process is increasing levels of collaboration at activity level, enabling wider exposure of UK HMG staff to South African networks and better understanding by South Africans of the UK presence in the country. Equally important is a growing understanding the of the different organisational cultures we work in.

  Internally we have reorganised our team around activity managers who drive an action plan related to each campaign. The team are distributed across the four offices as we believe this enables us to use talent most effectively where we find it and to ensure good communication facilities are available. Central teams in Johannesburg operating the programme are supported in the smaller offices by activity delivery managers who support local delivery as needed. The effect has been to create a single integrated South African (and regional) programme, in contrast to our earlier disposition which entailed three separate and usually distinct programmes in each of our three offices (prior to the opening of the Pretoria office).


  The British Council in South Africa operates as the central component of a regional Council network including our activity in Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique and Mauritius. This provides for a network of eight offices working as one operational unit. The process has several advantages in terms of efficiency and effectiveness. Feedback from our partners has been universally supportive and enthusiastic for the opportunities it affords them.

  On the former we have been able to remove duplicated support services by centralising accounting, personnel and other services to free up resource for programme delivery. Our goal was to improve the ratio of spend between programme and overhead costs programme from around 35% to 50%. By the end of 2003-04 this goal will have been achieved.

  On effectiveness we operate a regional programme that enables nationals from all five countries to interact with each other through regional, cross border activities. This enables economies of scale, better use of our human resource talent across the five countries and an increase in impact as our target groups appreciate the enhanced access they enjoy to UK networks as well as their professional peers in neighbouring countries. This enriches the content, builds trust and exploits the unique capacity the Council has to build and maintain cross border, multilateral networks of professional interest. The gain in trust is palpable and enables the Council to support the NEPAD agenda in a very direct way. It also presages and builds good practice in advance of the pan African activities we have received new funding for in Africa. The capacity to operate multilaterally is an increasing criteria for success in building positive cultural relations among professional groups and we are developing best practice in this regard.

Human resources

  The Council in South Africa has changed its staff culture. We reduced the number of UK appointed staff we expatriate to South Africa and increased the number of senior South African staff that manage our programmes. Five years ago there were no South Africans in our senior team whereas now 60% of its membership comprise local staff.

  Our motives have been first and foremost to comply with Equity of Employment legislation and to demonstrate our support to transformation through our own employment practice. Additionally we have recruited local professionals to manage all our programme activity, bringing with them not only local expertise but access to existing professional networks. Employing a full time professional Human Resources Director we focus considerable attention and resource on good employment practice and skills development. We have five UK staff in South Africa and thirty seven South African staff. Of the total forty two more than half have regional responsibilities.

Programme strategy

  The Campaign structure of our programme has also brought benefits, both to staff and how they work but also to external stakeholders and target groups.

  Firstly it enables us to focus resources on a controlled spread of activities that support broader messages about UK culture, ideas and achievements. There are approximately sixty units of activity spread across the three campaigns in our current year action plan. We aim to reduce the number in future years in favour of fewer but larger units of activity achieving higher profile and impact.

  Secondly it enables interested parties to understand our programme in a more open and transparent way.

  Thirdly it facilitates the sharing of resources and expertise in such a way that we are able to enhance impact in the smaller countries in our region beyond the level of budget they are able to access. We can get more bang for our buck. The coherence and continuity of message also enable a better marketing platform for extending impact to wider society through communication activities, through the media, through events and through products we disseminate through programmes.

  A key part of our development is the commissioning of primary market research into our target groups. As a transitional society, South Africa is raising a new generation of adults whose characteristics are not that well understood. They are from the former disadvantaged communities but in the post apartheid period have emerged as well educated, economically powerful consumers with different habits, tastes and interests to their parents who did not enjoy the opportunities they have grown up with. They have not had UK exposure during the exile and scholarship era. They will become the leaders of the future but do not have well formed views about the UK. We need to find out about them and cater to their interests.

  In this regard there is a superb case study of the BRUFS (British Undergraduates Fellowship Scheme) graduates, a group of about 150 black South Africans who were trained to degree level in the UK in the early 90s. The scheme was funded by DfID and managed by the Council. They have now re-emerged as a self-sustaining, dynamic alumni group who are forming strategically important relationships with Trade Partners International and other FCO colleagues. The relationship provides key access to an important segment of African society through a group of Africans who have an intimate understanding of the UK and its people.


  Three million of Africa's seven million internet users are in South Africa. The country has an effective electronic infrastructure and associated services enabling us to concentrate on using virtual services for delivery. Consequently we do not provide the public access facilities one would typically associate with a British Council office in Africa or Asia. Over 85% of enquiries received are virtual.

  We have invested in video conferencing, IT, web based and call centre based facilities that enable us to achieve economies and to stand at the cutting edge of communication services in Africa. Our enquiry service is outsourced as is the management of our web services freeing up capacity devoted to better bespoke research services by our information team in support of product and service development in our campaigns. We increasingly invest efficiency savings in bandwidth to cater for increasing communication requirements. These will increase steadily as the Council introduces new online management systems, products and services.

  A clear priority for the next five years is to build and deliver a sophisticated information and service delivery system that will enable our customers to access information about the UK rapidly, and increasingly to access services directly through our electronic network, whether registering for an examination or directly accessing study material through the internet.


  We are now working with a Balanced Scorecard to build up a clear picture of the impact of our work activities and the performance improvements we can achieve year on year. In addition individual project specific evaluations are carried out to ensure achievement of objectives and to ensure we capture good practice for transfer to other activity. In 2003-04 we will produce baseline data covering a number of indicators which will inform future planning and delivery.


  The British Council is a crucial element of the UK public diplomacy agenda in South Africa. We work with our HMG partners to overcome a distinctly dated perception among South Africans of UK society. The large British passport holding community are not a key target group and often not supportive of the ideas we espouse. Diversity, innovation and modernity are not values they necessarily associate with the Britain of their imagination. The new emerging black middle class equally do not share this perception much beyond the icons of Beckham and Buckingham Palace. They are however a group who are amenable to the culture we wish to promote and are a sophisticated customer. Our challenge is to assist their elders to progress post-apartheid transformation and to ensure as the next generation inherit the mantle they will turn to UK for opportunity, experience and expertise. Our challenge is to understand their needs and to respond with services that attract and retain their interest.

The British Council

September 2003

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