Select Committee on Foreign Affairs First Special Report




Recommendation 2

  The Committee welcomes the FCO's efforts to reduce the number of layers in its management hierarchy, and the Foreign Secretary's willingness to allow for direct access from the bottom to the top. (Paragraph 8)

What progress has been made on development of more informal working methods?

  68.  A major information and communications technology investment programme is nearing completion. This is aimed at transforming the FCO into a single, global on-line organisation. It will bring Ministers into more direct contact with staff and will work across traditional hierarchies, for example facilitating creation of "virtual teams". In parallel, the FCO has been at the forefront of work on "Modernising Government", completing its largest ever staff consultation exercise (for more detail, see the 2000 Departmental Report).

Recommendation 4

  We recommend that the FCO make a full examination of the problems created for the spouses of FCO staff and reports further to the Committee on its findings and planned action. (Paragraph 14)

What progress has been made to improve the situation of spouses?

  69.  Since the Department reported to the Committee it has been decided to increase the Spouse Compensation Scheme funding by £0.5 million. From April 2001, the full rate payable in respect of eligible spouses will be approximately £2,300 per annum.

  70.  As part of the Department's continuing efforts to increase employment opportunities for spouses, it is examining with the Diplomatic Service Families Association the possibility of subscribing, on the Association's behalf, to an internet-based international employment exchange.

Recommendation 9

  We recommend that the FCO should make its travel advice available by telephone 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Travel advice leaflets should be distributed more widely, and should be available in travel agencies. The FCO should encourage travel web-sites, which are increasingly used to book holidays and flights, to provide links to its travel advice site. (Paragraph 23)

What developments have taken place on matters raised in paragraph 13 of response?

  71.  We are procuring an interactive voice recognition system for the Travel Advice Unit which will allow the public to access Travel Advice 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We will bid to the Capital Modernisation Fund for a new round the clock Call Centre. We have improved the layout of our Travel Advice and, through better liaison with the travel industry, have increased its availability to the travelling public. Most travel web-sites now have links to the FCO Travel Advice web-site. Press articles on travel regularly refer readers to our web-site.

Recommendation 12

  We recommend that, as the sponsoring Government Department, the FCO should ensure that the shift to subscription charges does not result in a decline in resources to BBC World Service Monitoring. (Paragraph 31)

What progress has been made in the review of the 1997 arrangements?

  72.  The review of funding arrangements for BBC World Service Monitoring is still under way.

Recommendation 13

  We recommend that, as the sponsoring Government Department, the FCO should ensure that the shift to subscription charges does not result in a decline in resources to BBC World Service Monitoring. (Paragraph 37)

What progress has been made on the range of options for new money for expanded activities?

  73.  We have initiated a review of the FCO's contribution to the Commonwealth Scholarships and Fellowships Plans to maximise the benefit the scheme brings to the UK and Commonwealth. We are working with the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Association of Commonwealth Universities to increase other Commonwealth countries' contributions to this Plan. We, and the British Council, will continue to strengthen and stimulate Commonwealth ties and links with developing countries. Manchester 2002's "Spirit of Friendship Festival" will in the run-up to the Commonwealth Games help us raise the Commonwealth's profile in the UK, especially among young people and provide opportunities to establish new links.

  74.  The FCO will play its part in implementing the recommendations of the White Paper on Science and Innovation, including by helping to strengthen links between the scientific community in the UK and abroad.

Recommendation 14

  We recommend that the FCO carry out a study into the level of direct and indirect financial support being given by the French and German governments to organisations in those countries performing roles similar to those of the British Council, and reports its findings to Parliament. (Paragraph 41)

When will the study be available?

  75.  The study on the level of direct and indirect support given by the French and German governments to British Council-like organisations was submitted to the Committee on 26 October.

Recommendation 18

  As a permanent member of the Security Council, we conclude that Britain should be investing at least as much in its overseas representation as France and Germany. (Paragraph 49)

What progress has been made following the CSR?

  76.  The Spending Review 2000 Settlement represented a very good outcome for the FCO: the target budgeted real terms increase in provision for 10 years. The creation of the joint Conflict Prevention Funds will also place significant extra resources at the disposal of the Foreign Secretary and his colleagues in DfID, MoD and HM Treasury. The extra resources, together with the welcome new flexibility represented by the joint Funds, will enable the FCO to deliver even greater outputs. See also the FCO response to the FAC Fifth Report on FCO and BTI resources, laid before Parliament on 7 November.

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Prepared 9 January 2001