47. Witnesses to this inquiry told us that the restructuring
exercise had resulted not only in a shift away from many global
environmental issues, but also had caused a decline in the FCO's
environmental expertise. Nick Mabey argued that the restructuring
and concurrent loss of expertise will have a negative impact on
the ability of the FCO to deal with these issues as they "require
significant literacy and longevity of expertise to have an effective
He also argued that the loss of a section with responsibility
for the environment has meant that there is now "the lack
of a clear focal point or career anchor in the FCO", diminishing
" its ability to integrate environmental issues successfully
into its mainstream work (e.g. on environmental factors and conflict,
corruption and governance/democracy), or provide an adequate diplomatic
support function for DEFRA".
IFAW also questioned whether the structure of the FCO is "adequate
to respond to the needs of international environmental diplomacy".
Iain Orr, of BioDiplomacy, highlighted the importance of cross-government
working, and called for a "good deal more in the way of both
inward and outward secondments in the Foreign Office".
JNCC agreed in part, saying that:
to some extent the lack of expertise within
FCO can be offset by having expertise, for example, within Defra
or within JNCC. We can offer that specialist advice. I also
believe that there are considerable advantages in mainstreaming
the environment within other policy areas. However, I have to
say that, at the end of all that, I still believe that you need
some central core within FCO that has responsibility for overseeing
that integration and mainstreaming, and making sure it is effective.
48. These criticisms are similar to those that have
been levelled at the civil service generally. For example, a paper
published by Demos pointed out that the civil service currently
functions though the appointment of gifted generalists:
Organisational life in the public and private sectors
has been characterised for much of its modern existence by the
increasing professionalisation of functions. There was a time
when, for example, human resources, finance and marketing were
'picked up' by generalist managers and their staffs. No longer.
These and others have become professionalised with institutes,
qualification and accreditation. Just as importantly, some organisations
and industries have become 'schools' for functions vital to their
businesses; for example, the most expert marketing people come
out of retail and consumer goods companies. Specialisation also
occurs within professionsforensic accountants, hip operation
surgeons and media lawyersas the know-how of, and demands
on, the speciality increase. In the public services, specialists
aboundin housing, adoption, primary teaching, integration
of services, and so on.
By contrast, the UK civil service has stuck with
its 'gifted generalist' approach, relying on process to make specialist
functions amenable to generalist operation. While some qualified
professionals have been admitted, for example, in accounting,
the functions as a whole would not be classed as professionalised.
This generalist approach goes beyond the so-called 'back office'
functions and is institutionalised through the career development
practice of changing job responsibilities about every three years.
These moves may be seen as small steps by civil servants but they
are giant steps for society: education to housing; domestic violence
to primary teaching; industry productivity to police budgets.
49. The paper went on to argue that this structure
leads to "knowledge shedding" and a limited institutional
memory. In order to ensure the required level of specialist expertise
in the civil service it recommended that the current structure
should be changed so that far more civil servants are recruited
from outside the organisation, a ratio of 70:30 of "freshers"
to "lifers" was suggested.
An argument was also given that rejected the existing response
to the need for more specialist expertise by the creation of
"'career anchors' within the home-grown lifer model rather
than sourcing specialists today from proven producers. It would
be ten years before the civil service produced specialists of
the depth available today from outside".
50. The Sub-committee asked the Minister and officials
how they were addressing the need for specialist environmental
expertise. It was told that this was being deal with by a "regular
flow of secondees from Defra into both the climate change side
and the sustainable development side both to ensure that [
the FCO has] excellent working relationships with Defra,
but also [has] a corps of technical expertise which, with the
best will in the world, [the FCO is] not always capable of developing
The Minister added that the FCO is increasing the sustainable
development skills of its complete workforce, so that sustainable
development can be embedded across the whole of the FCO's work.
51. We asked Nick Mabey, whether addressing the issue
of specialist expertise in this way was adequate to the task:
No. The issues the FCO deals with are different to
those in DEFRA and changing rapidly. Many of the areas where FCO
could add most value are still developing and are intellectually
and institutionally immature, for example: Climate change diplomacy
and the links to energy security; environmental technology cooperation;
climate security and environmental stress; resource management,
conflict and corporate behaviour; international environmental
governance; environmental democracy and rights. There is no off
the shelf training available to teach generalists how to approach
these issues. DEFRA does not effectively cover these areas either.
Effective diplomacy requires people to have cutting
edge skills and be in touch with networks of key thinkers and
actors. This requires both serious in-depth training and a career
path where experience and networks can be built. This is the
approach taken for FCO staff on major countries and institutionsChina,
India, EUwhere on top of 6-12 months of dedicated language
training staff can expect several tours of duty on a related region/country/institutionthus
giving them incentives to maintain and build their knowledge and
understanding over time. It is strange that a similar investment
is not made on environmental issues, which by their very nature
are international and require successful diplomacy to deliver
UK interests. This type of internal capacity should be supplemented
by external secondees from academia, NGOs and businessas
has been successfully pioneered in the human rights and science
and technology areas in FCO, and was a key part of [the Environmental
Policy Department] from 1999-2003.
welcome the FCO's training programme to ensure better that all
staff become conversant in sustainable development and environmental
issues. Nevertheless, we have heard during the course of this
inquiry that the specialist skills that the FCO requires in the
field of environmental diplomacy are lacking. We are of the opinion
that these skills can only in part be addressed by FCO staff and
by other Government departments through secondments. Given the
complex and specialised nature of this work, and the FCO's own
admission that its internal corps of civil servants working in
this area are not able to develop their expertise quickly enough,
we call for a large increase in the use of externally-appointed
environmental specialists. In addition, to ensure that the unique
abilities that FCO officials develop can be aligned with environmental
expertise, it is essential that career diplomats with an environmental
focus are developed; an environmental 'career anchor' must therefore
be re-established. Our earlier recommendation that an environmental
policy group be established could provide the location for this
appointment of John Ashton as Special Representative on Climate
Change, and the FCO's assertions as to the importance of this
appointment for driving the climate change agenda forward, could
be taken as an implicit recognition that the current structure
is inadequate to the task of international diplomacy on environmental