Relationship with the UK government

1. The British Council is a registered charity incorporated and governed by Royal Charter.

2. The British Council is operationally independent from the UK government. It is governed by a Board of Trustees that is accountable to the UK’s Charity Commission for its activities.

3. The British Council works closely with all UK governments and devolved administrations to ensure strategic alignment to UK policy priorities.

4. As a recipient of significant public funds, the British Council is subject to certain reporting and authorising requirements.

A registered charity governed by Royal Charter

 

  • The British Council’s Royal Charter, granted in 1940, is the organisation’s founding document and sets out the primary obligations relating to its legal status. It has a Board of Trustees that is responsible for ensuring that it follows charity legislation.
  • The Queen is the British Council’s patron and HRH the Prince of Wales is its vice-patron.
  • The Royal Charter determines the scope of the British Council’s work as a charity, which is to:
    a) promote cultural relationships and the understanding of different cultures between the peoples of the UK and other countries
    b) promote a wider knowledge of the UK
    c) develop a wider knowledge of the English language
    d) encourage cultural, scientific, technological and other educational co-operation between the UK and other countries
    e) otherwise promote the advancement of education.
  • As a registered charity, the British Council is regulated by the Charity Commission (England and Wales) and the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator, and is subject to charity law of the four countries that make up the UK.
  • As a Royal Charter body, it is also designated as a Public Corporation, which gives it a number of freedoms and flexibilities to invest in and develop its paid-for services and contract businesses from any surpluses it earns, in line with its charitable purposes. All the organisation’s paid-for and contract work is guided by its Fair Competition policy.
  • As a recipient of some UK government funding, the British Council is also a public body. We are categorised by the UK government as an executive non-departmental public body (NDPB). In this respect it is similar to many UK museums, national galleries and theatres and the British Library, which, like the British Council, are also charities.

Operationally independent

  • The British Council’s status means that the organisation is not a formal part of the UK government, although we do work closely with all four UK governments.
  • British Council employees are public servants and are not government employees or part of the UK civil service.
  • The British Council is operationally independent of government. However, it aligns its long term plans with the UK’s long term foreign policy priorities and interests, and there are some specific issues on which the British Council must seek approval from UK government ministers.
  • The British Council’s grant-in-aid funding from the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) is categorised by the UK Treasury as ‘unrestricted’, meaning that it has operational discretion over how this funding is spent. Expenditure is guided by a published corporate plan.
  • In 2014-15 FCO grant accounted for just 16 per cent of our funding, 84 per cent comes from self-generated income.
  • The British Council’s Board of Trustees sets the organisation’s strategy, objectives, targets and priorities, via the Corporate Plan.
  • The British Council consults the UK Government and the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on the content of the Corporate Plan.

Working closely with all four UK governments

  • The British Council receives grant-in-aid funding from the FCO to deliver international opportunities and trust for the UK through English, the arts, education and society programmes.
  • Additionally, it operates on a contractual basis and in partnership with government departments, organisations and agencies of the devolved administrations to deliver their international cultural relations outcomes.
  • To ensure the greatest impact for the UK, the British Council is firmly committed to strategically aligning its work to the long term policy priorities of the UK. This includes supporting the broad policy interests and priorities of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, other relevant UK Government departments in Whitehall and the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  • The British Council’s work for the UK requires the organisation to give an account of its impact and use of taxpayer funding to all four UK governments, parliaments and assemblies.
  • The Foreign Secretary is ultimately accountable to Parliament for the work of the British Council. The organisation is therefore required to respond to parliamentary questions and is accountable to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee.

Facts

  • As for any charity board, the British Council’s Board of Trustees is accountable for the organisation’s assets, work and finances. It sets a strategy in line with the charitable objectives in the Royal Charter.
  • The Board of Trustees approves the corporate plan for the British Council. Strategy and spending are discussed with the FCO, the other relevant departments of Whitehall and the devolved administrations, at the planning stage. The Corporate Plan is agreed by ministers before being finally approved by the Board.
  • The British Council sets its own professional standards and devises its own programmes in accordance with its Royal Charter and Corporate Plan.
  • As a Royal Charter body, the British Council is subject to oversight from the Privy Council.
  • The British Council is working with overseas governments to make sure that its status is appropriate to its activity in critical countries, including setting up subsidiary entities where necessary.
  • Where it is legally appropriate, the British Council operates overseas as a branch of the British Council UK charity. If that is not possible, it tries to agree an alternative status with the host government. There are only two countries in the world where it operates with diplomatic status: China and India, as agreed with their governments.
  • The British Council actively reviews opportunities to co-locate with FCO, the Department for International Development, UK Trade and Investment and other UK international organisations operating overseas. Where it is practical, affordable and in line with the British Council’s purpose and mission, it will co-locate. We already share space in more than 30 places around the world. However, because of international conventions, the British Council will not be able to share new space in countries where its activity is revenue-generating.
  • If the British Council proposes to open or close operations in any country, it must seek the FCO’s prior approval.
  • In 2012/13, the British Council’s FCO grant funding amounted to £171.5 million, 22 per cent of the organisation’s total income of £781 million. As set out in the last UK government Comprehensive Spending Review, the British Council’s grant-in-aid was set to fall year on year to £154 million in 2014/15.
  • Members of the Board of Trustees are recruited through open advertisement and elected by the board. The only exception is that the Foreign Secretary reserves the right to nominate one member of the board. This trustee has no special voting rights.
  • The Chair and Deputy Chair are elected by the Board of Trustees. However, the Foreign Secretary must preapprove their appointment. The Foreign Secretary must also pre-approve the appointment and term of office of the Chief Executive. This is the same role the UK Culture Secretary plays for UK museums, national galleries and theatres and the British Library.