Further written evidence from the Public
and Commercial Services Union (PCS)|
FCO TO END
The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), the
biggest union representing Diplomatic Service staff, has in recent
months made two submissions to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee.
Both submissions have highlighted our concerns about the increasing
localisation of posts in UK embassies and consulates around the
world and the impact this will have for the operation of the FCO
and UK Diplomatic Service.
The committee themselves shared some of these concerns.
In their report on the performance of the FCO (Foreign Affairs
CommitteeThird Report on FCO Performance and Finances,
2 February 2011) they commented that, "A further reduction
in the opportunities for more junior UK based staff to serve in
overseas posts, and a consequent diminishing of experience and
morale among FCO employees, will over time have a damaging effect
on the quality of British diplomacy and the effectiveness of the
While the date has now passed for submissions for
the committee's current enquiry into the role of the FCO in UK
Government, there has been a recent major development related
to the deployment of Diplomatic Service staff overseas that PCS
would like to make the committee aware of.
On 23 February the FCO announced a decision made
by the Executive Board to end nearly all overseas postings for
A & B band officers in the Diplomatic Service and wider FCO.
A & B band are the most junior grades within the Diplomatic
Service and FCO. There are currently around 450 of these posts
and the plan is to reduce this number to around 50 "essential"
posts by 2015. The FCO say this is being done for two reasons:
to make savings as a result of the recent government spending
review, it was claimed this measure will save up to £30 million
a year by 2015 which will be recycled into "frontline"
diplomatic work; a diminishing requirement for this type of work
to be carried out overseas by UK based officers.
The FCO announced there would then be a 60 day consultation
period with staff and trade unions to discuss these proposals.
However they made it clear they have already made the decision
to end nearly all overseas postings for more junior staff and
the consultation period was to discuss how they could implement
PCS is extremely concerned about this decision apparently
made by the FCO Board and the impact it will have for FCO staff,
FCO operations overseas, UK diplomatic capability and also the
ability of HMG to assist UK nationals overseas.
Our first concern is that this decision, with far
reaching consequences for the FCO and Diplomatic Service, has
apparently been taken with no consultation with Heads of Mission,
FCO staff, its unions, other government departments, SIS and other
stakeholders and interested parties. The decision has also been
taken without any actual business case being put forward to support
it nor any cost benefit analysis. PCS has seen the papers on which
the Board made their decision and these contain only assumptions
about the likely impact of the decision with no actual hard data
or evidence to support these assumptions.
The FCO have said that they will now go through the
450 A & B band posts overseas to see which can be localised,
reconfigured, replaced or upgraded to leave them with 50 "essential
posts" which largely for security reasons will need to remain.
PCS believes this work should have been done before any decision
was made to get rid of nearly all these posts. This appears to
be a case of post-hoc rationalisation.
The FCO has tried to characterise the jobs as back
office functions. This is simply not the case. Although the jobs
are more junior within the FCO's grading structure they are still
jobs which are key to FCO work overseas. Many B band jobs are
political officer jobs which involve lobbying host governments
on behalf of HMG, reporting political developments and promoting
human rights. Other jobs at B band are involved in promoting trade
and inward investment, one of the FCO's new priorities and also
consular work, including acting as the front of house contact
point in UK embassies overseas. A lot of A band jobs are in the
Registry and other IT and communications roles, all of which are
essential for embassies and consulates to maintain contact with
the FCO in London.
The FCO claim the jobs that will go will either be
localised, reconfigured upgraded or replaced. PCS believes that
getting rid of this many posts (the 400 jobs slated to disappear
over the next four years represents nearly a third of all UK Diplomatic
Service posts overseas) will inevitably seriously damage FCO operations
overseas and UK diplomatic capability.
Localising posts does not provide any improvement
in service delivery. The FCO recently published an interim report
into the impact of their recent programme of localising management
officer posts. It found there was no discernible improvement to
service delivery and also that for security reasons many of the
tasks previously performed by UK based officers was now drifting
upwards to more senior diplomatic colleagues. In some posts they
have also had recruitment and retention problems with new locally
For many of the roles which the FCO now wish to cut
locally engaged staff would simply not be as effective as experienced,
committed members of the Diplomatic Service. It should be remembered
that Diplomatic Service staff have a 24/7 work obligation overseas
while locally engaged staff only have to work local office hours.
All Diplomatic Service staff are UK taxpayers and voters. As
we have seen recently with various overseas crises, the 24/7 obligation
is a key part of FCO operations overseas and this capability will
be severely diluted if even more localisation takes place.
The FCO have set up a working differently group to
look at how the A & B jobs can be deleted without this work
simply not being done or drifting up to more senior diplomats.
Once again PCS believes that detailed work of this sort should
have been completed before a decision was made to get rid of 400
overseas posts. We are sceptical as to whether this work can be
reconfigured or replaced. However the danger is having made this
decision the FCO will now simply try and engineer a solution which
doesn't actually address the problem.
One of the main consequences of this decision is
the negative impact it will have on the morale of FCO staff, an
issue already identified by the committee. Staff joined the Diplomatic
Service precisely because they could expect to spend a major portion
of their careers working overseas. The FCO will now find it increasingly
difficult to motivate staff in more junior grades who will now
spend their entire career in the UK, unless they are able to get
promoted to a higher grade.
It also sends out a very negative message about the
work carried out by staff at more junior grades, as though it
is somehow not important to the office. It will also set up a
very dangerous divide within the office between the more senior
grades who work overseas and the more junior grades who won't.
The FCO very much relies on an esprits de corts amongst
staff. This has been clearly in evidence during the various recent
crises around the world where staff have volunteered to work in
the 24/7 crisis centre in the UK and to go to North Africa as
part of Rapid Deployment Teams (RDT). This readiness to help and
volunteer will we believe diminish if large sections of the FCO
feel that they are in some way not part of the main work carried
out by the office.
The ability of the FCO to respond to a crisis will
also diminish over time if large parts of the office have no experience
of working overseas. RDT rely on staff having experience of working
overseas to be able to go overseas at short notice and to be able
to get to work immediately on the ground. Staff without experience
of overseas work will be far less effective than those who do.
This could seriously undermine the ability of the UK to help UK
nationals overseas in times of crisis.
Jobs performed overseas at A & B bands, also
act as very effective training grades for more senior posts. If
these posts go the first posting for UK diplomats will often be
at Deputy Head of Mission level. It will be very difficult for
a diplomat with no previous experience of working in an embassy
or consulate to go out and be effective in this sort of role.
The final major impact of this decision, will we
believe be on diversity within the FCO as an organisation. At
the moment ethnic minority staff within the FCO are disproportionately
represented within the A & B grades. If these grades are denied
the opportunity to work overseas then Diplomatic Services staff
overseas will become far less diverse.
We believe that the long term plan of the Foreign
Office is to make the entry point for the Diplomatic Service at
C4 level. The main new entrants at this level are from the civil
service fast stream, with a disproportionate number from Oxbridge.
More junior grades will not be allowed to join the Diplomatic
Service. This risks turning the Diplomatic Service back into an
elitist organisation with entrants drawn from a narrow social
background. Over the last 20 years the Diplomatic Service has
been able to attract candidates from a wide variety of different
social backgrounds and this has been a great strength of the service.
We fear this will be lost if the FCO go ahead with plans to stop
posting more junior staff overseas and eventually prevent more
junior staff from being members of the Diplomatic Service.
PCS is well aware of the current financial restraints
which the FCO has to operate under, however the £30 million
annual savings the FCO say not posting junior staff overseas will
save could we believe be achieved by looking at other areas of
running costs. The single biggest area of expenditure is estates
and some fairly minor reconfiguration of estates could yield similar
savings. Significant savings from IT projects could also be realised.
PCS is currently urging the FCO to reconsider its
decision as we believe it is fundamentally the wrong decision
to end posting more junior staff overseas. If they do want to
look at this subject, then we have suggested running an independent
review to look into how the FCO deploys its staff overseas.
We hope the committee will find this submission useful
and that you may wish to question the FCO closely on their proposals.
I would also be more than happy to provide any more information
required by the committee or even to come and speak to members
of the committee myself.
21 March 2011
40 Foreign Affairs Committee, Third Report of Session
2010-11, FCO Performance and Finances, HC 572, paras 46
& 47 Back