Written evidence from the Public and Commercial
Services Union (PCS)|
1. Thank you for giving PCS the opportunity to
contribute a written submission to the InquiryThe role
of the FCO in UK Government.
2. PCS is the largest civil service union within
the FCO, we have nearly 1,500 members at all grades who are scattered
throughout the world in some of the most difficult places in the
world, serving their country with distinction.
3. We will focus with a snapshot on three areas
that the Committee is looking at. How can the FCO best use its
resources, how does the FCO interact with OGD's and the role of
FCO Posts overseas.
4. PCS understand how tight resources are in
the FCO but we have struggled, as staff representatives, over
a number of months to try and engage constructively with senior
management in the FCO on where best resources might be used or
indeed saved. Unfortunately, the senior management style over
recent years has been a culture of just do it, with little or
no consultation with elected staff representatives (and staff).
In looking to make savings we believe that FCO management takes
the easy route of targeting staff rather than some of the more
costly estate and IT projects it has engaged in over the years.
We think this is because it is potentially easier than actually
taking some tough decisions within these areas and the FCO's poor
record of project and programme management.
5. As in many parts of government we believe
the FCO spends far too much of its budget on consultants, often
with negligible or no discernible benefit. Between May and November
2010 alone the FCO spent nearly £12 million on consultants
and in 2010 nearly £5 million was paid to consultants for
"rebranding" the FCO corporate image. In a climate of
tight budgets we believe resources must be focused on "front
line services" and roles supporting these services.
6. In order to make some of the savings required
by the recent spending review, the FCO have said they will target
so called "back office" functions in order to concentrate
resources on "front line diplomacy". We believe there
is a false distinction between the front line and back office.
The reality is the front line cannot do what it is supposed to
without back office support. We believe cuts may focus on finance
and other corporate service directorates who carry out vital work
which ensures the overseas network of posts can operate effectively.
If jobs are cut in these areas, the work will not go away but
will be passed on to posts themselves and often to fairly senior
diplomats who will have to spend time carrying out administrative
work rather than front line diplomacy. The FCO are looking to
make cuts to administrative costs of £100 million over the
next four years. We believe this is simply not sustainable and
will damage the capability of the FCO. It is also likely to lead
to substantial job losses and reduced career opportunities amongst
UK based staff. This will further damage the morale of FCO staff
who have already seen a cut to budgets of around 20% in real terms
due to the decision of the previous government to remove the Overseas
Price Mechanism (OPM).
FCO INTERACTION WITH
7. We have noticed in the past a tendency in
dealing with other departments who have an international role
that the FCO seems to want to take a lead in its attempt to gather
political kudos and control the debate. How successful they
have been in achieving this is open to question.
8. Relations with the Treasury have not been
good with a feeling the FCO has not been good at getting the resources
it required. The most striking recent example of this was the
decision to abolish the OPM. This took a big chunk out of the
FCO's budget and has only now been partially restored. The Treasury
also took a hard line in asking for big cuts to the allowances
received by diplomatic staff working overseas. OGD with staff
overseas took a much smaller hit, with FCO staff feeling their
own department should have taken a harder line in negotiations
with the Treasury.
9. The responsibility for issuing UK visas, which
was previously jointly administered by the FCO and UKBA, has now
passed over completely to UKBA, although there is a service level
agreement (SLA) which gives the FCO in theory some say in this
work. The issuing of visas is still an important part of many
FCO embassies and consulates around the world and 40% of posts
should be filled by FCO staff. However despite the SLA the FCO
seems to have a long term policy of having less and less to do
with visa work with fewer and fewer FCO staff now working in visa
sections. We do not believe current arrangements with UKBA are
working well and should be revised so the FCO has a greater role
in the issuing of visa which we believe should be an important
part of its service delivery overseas.
10. The network of overseas posts is the key
to delivering the new overall priorities for the FCO of security,
prosperity and consular services. There is much debate at present
about the impact of the cuts on this network. PCS believes it
would be a big mistake to see any significant shrinkage of the
overseas network. In order to maintain our diplomatic influence
and to seek to increase overseas trade in a rapidly changing world,
HMG will still need a physical presence and UK based staff in
most countries around the world. In our view, posts also still
have a key role to play in providing a full range of consular
services and help to UK citizens overseas. In recent years there
has been a big increase in UK citizens needing consular help or
other assistance from UK embassies. With current patterns of work
and travel this is likely to increase. In times of emergency or
crisis UK citizens (and their MPs) expect their embassy to help
them and FCO staff do a fantastic job, often in difficult or dangerous
circumstances. This help is often required immediately and this
would simply not be possible if the UK reduced its presence to
regional rather than in-country in some parts of the world.
11. In order for the FCO network of overseas
posts to function effectively we believe the right balance needs
to be struck in staffing them with a combination of UK based civil
servants and locally engaged staff. There is no doubt that locally
engaged staff play an important role in posts around the world.
However we have now reached the point where 67% of all FCO staff
globally are not UK citizens. We believe this has pushed the balance
too far and that this is now having a detrimental impact on overseas
posts. The reason for increased localisation has frankly been
one of crude cost cutting with no improvement to service delivery.
A good example of this is the recent localisation strand of the
Corporate Services Programme with which the Committee is familiar. Anecdotally,
we understand that replacing UK based management officers with
local staff has not seen any improvement in service delivery.
Because of security concerns there are many tasks formerly carried
out by UK staff which locally engaged staff cannot perform with
this work drifting up to more senior staff who are having to spend
more and more time carrying out admin tasks rather than concentrating
on other diplomatic work. We fear that the FCO is planning more
localisation of posts overseas. We believe it would be folly to
do this without a proper evaluation of the impact of localisation
in the FCO in terms of the impact on UK posts overseas, career
opportunities and jobs for UK FCO staff who will have much reduced
chances of working overseas and also whether it is in the long
term interests of the country to have a UK foreign service staffed
mainly by non UK citizens.
8 February 2011