image from reportHouse of Commons
Foreign Affairs Committee
Britain: FCO Skills
Fourteenth Report of Session 2017–19
Report, together with formal minutes
relating to the report
Ordered by the House of Commons
to be printed 20 November 2018
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s reputation for diplomatic skill has historically been very strong. But a continuing lack of clarity over the FCO’s purpose and role ingovernment, including confusion over the meaning of Global Britain, threatens to have detrimental effects on the skills of its staff, and puts at risk the prestige of the FCO as an employer. We again call on the Government properly to define Global Britain and the FCO’s role in delivering it. The FCO also lacks systematic data on the existing skills of its staff and the extent to which they are meeting skills-development targets, and continues to face issues with ‘churn’, meaning expertise is lost when staff move roles. In this report, we set out measures the FCO should take to correct this.
Pay lower than for comparable, similarly qualified staff at other departments is adding to the FCO’s problems. The FCO cannot expect indefinitely to attract Premiership talent if it consistently offers Championship salaries. The FCO’s future as a home for the best that the Civil Service has to offer is at stake. We urge the Government to look again at the pay offer at the FCO, and call for an external review to keep the reward package of officials doing similar jobs at the FCO and the Department for International Development closely in line. The Foreign Secretary has announced plans to open some ambassadorial appointments up to external competition. As he concedes, this is not in fact a significant change to existing FCO recruitment policy, and we call on the FCO to take a much wider look at the potential to open up appointments across the organisation to external competition.
This comes at a time when the broader environment in which the FCO operates continues to change rapidly, and the FCO needs to ensure it has the skills required to deliver Global Britain. We believe it probable that the Diplomatic Academy will miss the target it has set for training experts from across government in trade policy and negotiations. We also continue to believe that the FCO faces a considerable challenge to ensure it has the skills it will need for European diplomacy after Brexit, both with the EU and bilaterally with member states. We call on the FCO to clarify its plans in both these crucial areas.
The FCO’s language skills are improving, but there is still a long way to go, and even the FCO’s existing targets for language attainment will be challenging to reach. The Foreign Secretary has now announced plans to expand the FCO’s language capacity; we welcome these plans, but call urgently on the FCO to identify the additional resources required to deliver them. The challenge to the UK from Russia has only increased in recent months, and the geopolitical role of China is becoming ever more important. Developing and maintaining expertise on both countries will need to be a key focus for the FCO. Lastly, the FCO has recognised that digital communication is now a core aspect of diplomacy, but it will need to encourage calculated risk-taking and promote creativity and innovation on the part of its diplomats in order to succeed in this field. …
2 What is the FCO for? Skills and the purpose of diplomacy
The FCO’s standing
5. The FCO’s reputation for diplomatic skill has historically been very strong. As LSE academic Dr Heidi Maurer put it in written evidence, “the UK’s Diplomatic Service, its network and its skilful diplomats have for a long time been regarded as one of the best in the world”. (5)
(5) Dr Heidrun (“Heidi”) Maurer (SKI0003)
Defining priority skills
14. A common theme in submissions to this inquiry was that the range of skills diplomats need has grown considerably, and that foreign ministries worldwide are facing a challenge to adapt.(28)
(28) As Dr Maurer put it: “Diplomatic tasks include nowadays not only representation, reporting and negotiating, but also management of budgets, engaging in outreach activities and public diplomacy [JB emphasis], creating a community spirit with own nationals living in the third country, supporting trade investments and business opportunities”. Dr Heidrun (“Heidi”) Maurer (SKI0003) See also European Institute of Public Administration (SKI0001) …