24 June 2021

Today I wrote to colleagues about the changes we must make over the next two years to secure our long-term future and to build on the British Council’s success of the past 86 years.

Before I share those changes, I would first like to pay tribute to the hard work of colleagues around the world. They have pivoted many of our programmes online, reopened our teaching and exam centres safely and launched new digital products.

This meant that throughout the pandemic we have been able to continue to connect people from across the UK with people from around the world through arts and culture, education, and the English Language.

To that end, I would also like to thank our beneficiaries, partners, and customers for their continued loyalty throughout this difficult period that has left no one untouched.

The impact of Covid-19 

Like many organisations around the world, we suffered large financial losses due to the pandemic. To safeguard our future over the last year, we have put in place a variety of measures to restrict costs and secure additional financial support. This include loans from our UK government sponsors, the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) to support us through the pandemic.

We received a welcome increase in non-Official Development Assistance (ODA) funding from the UK Government. However due to the impact of Covid-19 on our commercial income which we previously used to subsidise our work in non-ODA countries, our total available budget for these countries will be 20 percent less than pre-Covid.

In addition, our grant in aid for ODA funded countries will be 11 per cent lower than pre-Covid. It’s clear that we do not have enough funding to run programmes in every country in which we are currently present.

Following discussions with the FCDO, on their decision we have agreed to prioritise the grant money they provide us to specific countries and to certain areas of our work. This is aligned to the UK government’s new geopolitical priorities.

Specifically, Ministers have shared formal confirmation of their decision that we should stop spending our Grant-in-Aid in 11 countries and to deliver Grant-in-Aid programming through offices in other countries in a further nine. Where it is still viable to do so, we aim to continue existing teaching or exams operations in these countries. 

The financial impact of the pandemic, alongside the need to prioritise more strongly and to build an organisation for the future, means we will need to make some difficult decisions across the organisation. It is clear now that over the coming 12-24 months job losses across the organisation will unfortunately be unavoidable. 

This is a painful decision to have to make, especially at a time when colleagues have already dealt with so much disruption and uncertainty. We will do everything we can to support colleagues through the changes. 

We will now begin consultations with our staff and their representatives on next steps.

Our future

I am confident for our long-term future and believe that the changes we are making will respond effectively to the changing needs of our customers, clients and partners to ensure that the British Council continues to make a positive contribution in the world and a place where people can thrive.

The pandemic has affected the way that people – particularly young people – consume arts and culture, learn new skills and interact with each other. We see this as an opportunity to strengthen the UK’s brand as a leader in inclusive and high-quality education. Particularly English language learning, where we expect to be supporting ten per cent of the world’s English learners, or 140 million people, by 2025. Likewise, we aim to connect 30 million people with UK arts either face to face or online by 2025.

As part of this ambition, we will expand our online opportunities that will be open to anyone anywhere with an internet connection. For example learning English online, taking part in teacher training or visiting a film or arts festival remotely.

I would like to reassure all our partners, stakeholders and customers that we remain committed to our mission, and we will make every effort to ensure these changes do not affect our current commitments. We look forward to continuing these relationships and building on what we’ve already achieved in the years to come.

Best wishes,

Kate Ewart-Biggs

Interim CEO