Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by British Council on the closure of British Council Country Directorates

  As a result of an extensive review of our operations world-wide the British Council has come to the decision to close operations in Belarus, Ecuador, Lesotho and Swaziland. The decision forms part of a five-year strategy to re-align the British Council's global operations.


  The reasons for the closure of the British Council in Belarus are twofold. First, the Belarusian authorities were pressing the Council to regularise its status. The range of possibilities open to the Council to resolve the problem was not great, and all came with significantly increased cost or with reduced ability to achieve impact, or both. The second reason is that as part of the strategy for the next five years the Council considered the resourcing of the operation in Belarus against two key criteria—the importance of the country to the UK and the Council's ability to achieve impact. The relative lack of importance of Belarus to this country meant that the Council could not sustain an argument for increasing its funding. The environment created by the regime severely limited the Council's ability to achieve impact widely. Given these factors the British Council decided to reallocate the grant-in-aid funds for Belarus to higher priorities and to close the operation.


  The decision to close the British Council's directorate in Ecuador has been taken on the basis that Ecuador's importance to the UK is rated as low by the FCO and that the impact that the Council can achieve with limited resources is restricted. The Teaching Centre has been in deficit for a number of years. Although there has been considerable improvement in the last 12 months it is unlikely that the Teaching Centre will be financially viable in the long term, particularly given the fact that the broader economic situation of the country is so severe and unlikely to improve dramatically in the foreseeable future. Despite this decision to close, the Council is currently looking at ways of continuing to provide modest support to a number of key activities where our Director in Ecuador and HM Ambassador feel strongly that complete withdrawal would create considerable negative impact for the UK.


  As elsewhere, decisions on the future of the British Council directorates in Africa were taken following an assessment of resources against each country's importance to Britain and the Council's ability to achieve impact. Because of Lesotho and Swaziland's relatively low political and economic importance to Britain, the Council could not justify the level of grant investment required to maintain our current operations. The Council's commitment to Africa remains undiminished with the grant-in-aid allocation for the region remaining constant over the next five years. Although the British Council offices in Lesotho and Swaziland are closing, the Chevening Scholarship Scheme and the Higher Education Links Programme will continue to be managed by the British Council through its directorate in South Africa.

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