The British Council’s Triennial Review published in July 2014 found:
The British Council has a strong brand, well established networks and committed staff. It is a valuable national asset and should be retained as the main official UK body for cultural diplomacy.
The Review also challenged the British Council to work harder with the whole of UK Government on engagement and alignment, governance, fair competition and reform.
Today, the Foreign Secretary endorsed the progress made to date and wrote to express his support and to encourage the British Council’s Chair Vernon Ellis and the newly appointed Chief Executive Ciarán Devane in embedding new ways of working into the fabric of everything the British Council does for the UK around the world.
In summary the Foreign Secretary endorsed:
Government Engagement and Alignment: Since July 2014 the British Council has worked closely with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Ambassadors and Heads of Mission and senior officials from other UK government departments and the Devolved Administrations as well as key partners in business, education, arts and civil society to develop a new Corporate Plan which ensures key UK stakeholders have been listened to and the British Council understands and reflects their key objectives to mutually reinforce each other’s agendas.
Governance: The creation of a British Council Government Engagement Group (GEG) which will allow closer government oversight as well as extensive opportunity for cross-Whitehall interests to be taken into account. Also, given the importance of the income-generating activity of the British Council, the Foreign Secretary has proposed further strengthening the operating model and financial and commercial expertise of the British Council Board.
Reform: The British Council has committed to the implementation of three core processes across the organisation. These are a gated process by which the British Council handles and bids for commercial opportunities in order to demonstrate and ensure it competes fairly for such opportunities with other UK providers, an independent complaints process to complement how the British Council listens to and responds to stakeholders, and a clear schedule of what services the British Council can provide pro bono and which it can provide on a paid for basis as ‘full cost recovery’ activities.
Operating Model: The British Council will also adapt its ‘Operating Model’, first committing to rapid progress in establishing the consistent global management and financial information which any well-run global organisation must have in place to ensure internal transparency as well as external, to drive efficiency and productivity, as well as to make the best decisions about resource allocations for the maximum UK public benefit. This process is already underway.
One of the key recommendations of the review was that there should be a clearer separation between the British Council’s income generating activities and those activities which were “for purely public benefit” in order to reduce the potential for conflicts of interest and increase trust in the British Council amongst major UK partners and UK business.
The Foreign Secretary has therefore recommended that the British Council develop a suitable commercial legal entity for income generating activity. This will be preceded by internal administrative separation of income-generating activities. This represents an important modernisation of the British Council’s operating model.
Wider Engagement: The British Council has committed to its own leadership, communications and relationship management being genuinely excellent. The British Council is committing itself to fully understanding stakeholders and ensuring they understand the British Council, creating a shared forward view with all key UK stakeholders; which recognises different priorities but also provides a common platform for what the UK collectively aspires to achieve.
Mission: Finally and most importantly the British Council will remain true to its mission. The British Council’s founding articles set out the belief that the world will be a better, safer, more prosperous place if people and peoples have a ‘friendly knowledge and understanding’ of each other and that the United Kingdom’s long term influence, economic growth and security benefit greatly from that. Everything the British Council does going forward must and will be aligned with this mission to contribute to the best future for the UK in the world.