FCO Performance and Finances - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

Email from Nick Raviden, PCS Negotiations Officer to Mike Gapes MP

I wrote to you previously when you were chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee to outline the concerns PCS had on behalf of our members working in the FCO, in particular the impact of the localisation of jobs currently performed by UK diplomats around the world, and also the relatively high levels of harassment and bullying reported by staff, particularly those from an ethnic minority background.

I note that the select committee is holding an Oral Evidence Session on Wednesday 24 November.

While PCS has not made any further formal submissions to the committee since our previous correspondence, I thought that ahead of the evidence session this week, you might appreciate an update on the issues we previously highlighted to the committee.


The committee's report published earlier this year highlighted concerns that the continuing localisation of jobs may restrict the opportunities for UK based staff to serve overseas and that this could damage the FCO's policy knowledge and capability. At the time the report was published the FCO had just announced plans to localise over 100 management officer posts around the world.

Since then, this Summer the FCO announced another 30 posts to be localised. These posts were mainly admin jobs, often Personal Secretaries and PA's to ambassadors and Heads of Mission.

After the recent spending review announcement the FCO has made it clear that intends to localise even more jobs in order to make further savings.

PCS is very concerned there is going to be even more localisation of posts without a proper assessment of the impact of the most recent localisation programme. Many of those posts have yet to be localised so the impact of the change is not known.

We do know that there are now fewer and fewer posts overseas for UK based staff. This is causing morale problems for staff, who joined the Diplomatic Service on the basis that they would spend the majority of their career overseas.

We also have a situation now where more junior posts overseas are fast disappearing. Traditionally this was a good method to allow younger recruits to get some experience of living and working overseas before going onto more senior postings. Increasingly the first posting for staff is now at a more senior level without having first gained the valuable experience of an overseas posting at a more junior level.

Another problem of having fewer and fewer UK based staff overseas, is that those that remain are having to take on a much bigger workload. This is because there are many tasks at post that only UK staff can perform for security reasons. Many of those tasks were carried out by Management Officers. These jobs are now falling onto Deputy or even Heads of Mission at some posts, who should be concentrating on more high level diplomatic issues. This is undermining the resilience of overseas posts.

We continue to have security concerns over the localising of posts in some parts of the world. This has been highlighted by the recent difficulties of locally engaged staff in Tehran. In the most recent round of posts to be localised it is proposed that PA's to the ambassador's in and should be localised. These are countries with a high risk of espionage, and we are concerned that sufficient weight is not being given to security considerations when decisions are made on where to localise staff.

The main driver behind localisation is clearly costs. While we believe the damage this causes to the capability of the UK Diplomatic Service far outweighs any cost savings, we are not even sure localisation saves as much money as the FCO claim. Two years ago they said it would save £14 million a year, last tear that was down to £12.5 million a year and the figure now quoted is around £10 million. This suggests the savings are not as big as first thought.

I hope you might find this information useful ahead of the evidence session on Wednesday, and if you wish I would happy to meet up and discuss at a later date in more detail the concerns of our members in the FCO.

22 November 2010

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