Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Minutes of Evidence



Examination of witnesses (Questions 96 - 120)

TUESDAY 12 DECEMBER 2000

MR DAVID GREEN, MR TONY DEYES and MR RUDOLF PLAUT

Chairman

  96. Good morning, Mr Green. Would mind introducing your colleagues and describing the work of the British Council to us this morning?
  (Mr Green) Thank you very much indeed. First of all, if I may just introduce myself. I am the Director General of the British Council and I started as Director General in July of last year. Before that I was previously Director of VSO and before that I was Deputy Director General of Save the Children. Tony Deyes, on my right, is our Director in Wales. He joined the British Council in 1976 and has served in a number of countries for us overseas, including Portugal, Brazil and Ecuador. He has a background in education with a specialisation in linguistics. Rudolf Plaut is a Member of our British Council Welsh Advisory Committee. He was Chairman and Pro-Vice Chancellor of University of Glamorgan, Chairman of the CBI in South East Wales, Chairman of the Higher Education Engineering Panel and Welsh Joint Education Committee. In addition he has been Chairman of Northmare Limited since 1973 and Chairman of NFC Asset Finance Limited since 1992. If I may make a few remarks about the British Council and start with the purpose of the British Council and remind us of what it is, which is to promote the best of the ideas, the achievements, the values and the expertise of the United Kingdom and through the medium of cultural relations to build partnerships and relationship with the peoples of 110 countries around the world, and as far as possible to do this in a mutual way, through two-way exchange. I welcome this opportunity today because it allows us the opportunity to tell you about our strategy, which we have just launched, the strategy for the next five to ten years. The strategy has three key aims. First of all, it seeks to maximise our effectiveness by placing our resources where they can make most impact. The strategy does involve shifting resources both geographically and sectorily. It, secondly, invests in human resources and in our overseas estate, which were areas that were adversely affected by the cuts that British Council suffered in 1996. Thirdly, it exploits new technology opportunities and strategic partnerships, and we have two key strategic partners in the World Bank and the BBC World Service. We seek in all we do to reflect the fact that the UK is made up of four different constituent parts and to reflect the changes post devolution. We also seek to present an honest picture of the United Kingdom and a contemporary image, but one that builds on our heritage and our traditions. In promoting and projecting the whole of the United Kingdom we seek to display the talent which exists in all four countries, whether in the area of dance, music, painting, theatre or whatever. Certainly looking back over the last two years, Welsh artists have been well represented and not for any tokenistic reasons, but because of their high quality. On education we give support to the Islamic centres and institutes of further and higher education in order to attract international students to Wales as a study destination. Under the Prime Minister's initiative and the National Assembly's business plan new and challenging targets have been set for this work. Under the British Council auspices, inward visits, courses, consultancies and showcases are arranged from and into Wales, and these create opportunities for international partnerships, whether it is in education, science, art or the media. There is also a great deal of interest—something that I have noticed when I have travelled—in devolution, which we are trying to cater for. I hope and believe that we are well plugged into Wales and aware of the issues which face Wales and aware of the needs. We do this through four mechanisms. The first is by having offices in Cardiff and in Bangor and making strong contacts with Welsh organisations, whether they are in the arts, education, law or science. That is the first means. The second means is thorough our Welsh Advisory Committee, which has two senior officials from the Welsh Assembly sitting on that body. Thirdly, through our partnership with the Arts Council of Wales, and as you know, we have set up a joint body called Wales Arts International which is a collaboration between those two organisations. Fourthly, through our British Council Assembly All Party Group under the chair of the deputy presiding officer. We are certainly not complacent and we are always seeking ways in which to improve, and I look forward to hearing your comments and suggestions as well as your questions. If I may just end by urging you to visit our offices any time you travel overseas, I guarantee you will be made very welcome. Thank you.

  97. Thank you very much. I have actually visited various offices of the British Council around the world and I have been very impressed by the work you have been doing. In your recent survey, Through Other Eyes, which we found very interesting, it showed that many people throughout the world have no idea that Wales is part of the UK and even those who do have a very strange idea of Wales and Welsh people, which is often very stereotypical and out of date. Can you give us some idea of what you are trying to do to remedy this? You have touched on some of the things that you have tried to do.
  (Mr Green) Can I start by talking a bit about Through Other Eyes, which is the document you are referring to. We have now done two of these surveys. They are conducted by MORI, this document here, and the reason that we do them is to find out what people actually think of the United Kingdom and to do it in a very objective way. So the British Council is only the messenger in this, it is not making these comments itself, it is reporting back precisely what it is that we are told. You are right to say that Wales comes out less well, certainly than England and Scotland, in terms of people's knowledge and understanding of Wales. In answer to the question; what countries do you think go to make up the United Kingdom? The answers were, England, 85 per cent, Scotland, 80 per cent, Northern Ireland, 72 per cent, Wales, 67 per cent. The media attention focused very much on the negative aspect of the report, which I think was unfortunate because there were some very positive things that came out of the report as well. I think it is worth saying that the United Kingdom is the only country that has dared do this, as far as we know, and we wonder what respondents might have made of countries that came out lower in the list of favour than the United Kingdom. In terms of what we are doing about this, I think that is very much the basis of the British Council's work and one of our challenges is to make sure that all our country offices and country directors are aware of the best of the talent that is coming out of Wales, the educational opportunities that Wales provides and, also, as I said earlier on, the fact that devolution went very smoothly and peacefully. People are very interested in that aspect of it. In terms of some specific examples, I think I will ask the Director for the British Council of Wales to give us some suggestions.
  (Mr Deyes) I think if one looks at Through Other Eyes II and compares it to Through Other Eyes I, I would say that the impression of Wales from Through Other Eyes II is a rather more favourable one than the one given in Through Other Eyes I. In Through Other Eyes I, for example, we did have mentioned in the top nine images associated with Wales; coal mining; the valleys and sheep, whereas in Through Other Eyes II we have the Princess of Wales; Prince of Wales; castles; rugby and beautiful landscapes. I think on balance that is a more positive view of Wales and England than was expressed in Through Other Eyes I. Rugby figures in the second one. This is interesting because if we look at the details of the countries answering the questions about Wales it is Japan and Argentina who score particularly highly on rugby as an image of Wales. That is natural because of their rugby playing background, but I think it also reflects on the effectiveness of the World Cup having been held in Wales and the awareness of that. Not that the British Council had anything to do with the World Cup, but as David has said, we are the messenger of the message coming from others overseas. As regards things like castles and beautiful landscapes, it is rather interesting that if you look back at the impressions of the United Kingdom as a whole in Through Other Eyes II one of the favourable things that comes out about the United Kingdom, and one of the strengths of the United Kingdom, is tradition and heritage. So, in a sense, those who were observing castles and beautiful landscapes as part of the images of Wales were looking at them as favourable strengths and they are to be seen as positive reflections.

Mr Livsey

  98. Have you noticed any changes to attitudes towards Wales abroad since devolution. You partly embarked on that, can you expand upon it, please? (Mr Green) There is a lot of interest in devolution, and we have run a number of seminars on the issue of devolution. In France, Spain and Germany there is particular interest in this issue. That is something that we have to try and respond to because of the interest. I think it has meant that it has changed the nature of the United Kingdom that we represent abroad and we have to recognise that. I think it also reflects a growing sense of national cultural identity, especially in Wales and in Scotland, and as a result that has prompted more discussion of what English identity means. In terms of what it has done in terms of change of perceptions, I think it is too early to say and I am hoping that when we repeat this in three or four years' time we will get a better feel for what impact that has had in terms of perceptions. Again, I wonder whether Tony wants to add to that?
  (Mr Deyes) I would just say that in a sense devolution allows the United Kingdom countries to promote their strengths with greater confidence because they are now administrations in their own right. The example I always give of that, as far as Wales is concerned, is the existence of the Welsh language and the existence, therefore, of a country which is bilingual and I think it is a bilingual country in the UK which has a great deal to offer in terms of advice and experience in that area in a way that, perhaps, we were not able to talk about before. There are other strengths in Wales which we shall, no doubt, touch on during these discussions.

  99. Can I proceed with this a bit further? When visiting the British Council in overseas countries I have always been impressed by the way that you have quite a lot of information available, but has devolution affected the work and are you putting on displays, for example, about the size of the National Assembly, what it does, what its powers are, how many members it has, are you putting over that sort of information? To me there are two aspects really, those countries which, in fact, are the Argentines or whatever of this world, who have an affinity with the United Kingdom, and there as others, like the United States and Australia, that have quite a lot of ethnic Welsh background in them where people are trying to find their roots. Do you actually display what is going on in Wales around the world or not, or are you just talking about it as you said just now?
  (Mr Green) The short answer is, yes, we try to and we try to keep up to date with what is going on through both the website that we have on the British Council which links through to the Council website in Wales, which is produced by Tony, and also through books that are available. Something I think we can do better and I think what we are aiming to do through looking at improving our website in a way in which we provide information about the British Council is to look at how we can improve the way in which we project the authorities within the United Kingdom.
  (Mr Deyes) I think there are specific examples of that which I can bring to the attention of the Committee. As David has said, there is great interest in devolution overseas, and we recognised this when over the election period for the assemblies there was, in fact, a seminar organised by the British Council in Wales and Scotland to bring from overseas constitutional experts, lawyers and academics to see the devolution process actually in action. We had a number of visitors walking around with some of the potential Assembly Members who were campaigning for seats in the Assembly. So it was very much a hands on direct experience that was organised by us and by our Scottish colleagues. Since devolution the British Council in Wales has collaborated closely with our offices overseas to try and allow responses to requests on devolution and information about devolution to be met first hand by Assembly Members travelling overseas to speak at debates, discussion and seminars. This has happened in Spain and France, and in the future we have an exchange planned with the government of Saxony in February where Assembly civil servants will be going over to Saxony to work with Civil Service colleagues in the Saxony and in Germany to share experiences. In terms of collaborating directly with the Assembly, as I believe the First Minister said when he gave evidence to this Committee. The Assembly International Relations Unit is producing an information pack about Wales. This will consist of a book, a journalist's pack of information and statistics, as well as a CD and a website as well. We have said to the Assembly that we will make this available through British Council offices overseas.

  100. This is at the political and administrative level that, perhaps, you are talking about. Would you welcome initiatives by the Assembly, for example, to put on the occasional exhibition in the British Council of what goes on in Wales so that people know more about it, more than they know now?
  (Mr Deyes) Indeed, I think that will be a logical extension of the sorts of activities that I have been talking about so far. It could very well form a background, and a very notable background which gives a lot of impact, to any of these events.
  (Mr Green) We would very much welcome that and we would be very pleased to display those.

Ms Morgan

  101. Do you have a co-ordinated strategy of how you would promote Wales abroad, a sort of written planned strategy?
  (Mr Green) Our purpose, as I said at the outset, is to promote the best of the ideas and the achievements of the United Kingdom, and within that Wales is a key constituent part and, therefore, we do it by drawing on the expertise that resides in Wales in support of that overall objective. The way in which it works is that we have 110 country directors representing the British Council in each of those countries in which we are working, and together with Tony Deyes here in Wales they work out what it is that is going to work best for them in terms of promotion of the United Kingdom, including Wales. So, if they are wanting to run a Welsh festival or a Welsh week, then they would seek advice from Tony about how best to project Welsh artists in that forum. Again, as I said at the outset, we have to, all the time, make sure that our country directors are aware of what is going on in Wales and, therefore, able to project a contemporary view of Wales. What we do not have is a set strategy for how we are going to project Wales world wide, and that could be something we could think about, but in a sense it is horses for courses and we know that in some places it is very important to do that and in others it will be less so.
  (Mr Deyes) I would like to mention two documents which will be regarded as strategic documents. As with any other country in the British Council's network Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland do have our country plans. Those country plans are drawn up for a three year period and set out the major activities in line with the British Council's core objectives. The activities in Wales which figure largely in those plans are the promotion of higher education in Wales, promotion of the arts and the sort of things we have just been talking about, promotion of the political scene and the excitement of devolution. That is a plan that is drawn up every year and revised on a rolling basis for three years ahead. I think it is now going to be five years actually in our strategy. The second document I would mention as a strategic document is the memorandum of understanding which the Director General and the Chairman of the Arts Council of Wales signed earlier this year to continue the work of Wales Arts International. It looks at the work we are going to do on behalf of the Arts in Wales in partnership with the Arts Council of Wales for the next three years. Again, it is a rolling programme. Once year one is finished we go off to plan year two and three. There is a complete synergy of our activities. We each put a budget into that and determine through that which are our priority countries, where we are going to create activities over the next three years and why we are going to do that and what our aim is in doing that. If I can give you some examples of what we plan to do. I have mentioned a Welsh week in Croatia which will take place in March 2001. We are also doing a Welsh week in Japan in 2001 which will focus largely on higher education, but will have attendant arts and science events. We are already talking about events in Chile in 2002 and Quebec in 2002/2003. So there is a fairly long-view. There is, as David, has indicated, a responsive element to our work as well in as far as we do want to collaborate as far as possible with the strategic plans for promoting Wales of the National Assembly, and therefore we try wherever possible to latch on to the sort of things that the Assembly has done in the motor regions. We were in Baden Wurttemberg last year and we were in Lyon this year and now, at this moment, there is a Welsh period—it is more than a week—in Milan. I am not sure whether there are plans for the First Minister to go out to Milan some time between now and February, but those are the sort of strategic forward planning decisions we take on a regular basis. We are not an ad hoc responsive organisation entirely, we do have plans which we hope fit in with the Assembly plans.
  (Mr Green) May I invite Mr Plaut to come in and give the Welsh Advisory view on that?
  (Mr Plaut) I am fairly new on the Advisory Committee, but can give an outsider's view, perhaps. One of the difficulties is that I believe that we have different audiences and we are not too sure in Wales what message we are trying to put across. We were talking about devolution a little earlier, that is of great interest to politicians and civil servants, but of absolutely no interest to colleagues of mine in business in overseas countries. Tourists are not very interest in how much of a silicon valley we are. They are not very excited about walking between silicon chip manufacturers. If we want visitors to Wales then we want a different image of what will attract tourists, whereas if we want to attract inward investment, whether it is quality of life, people like to live in a nice area, but also to provide the labour and the factories and everything that they need. To some extent we are asking the British Council to do a very difficult job. Until we clarify with the Assembly very clearly what we are trying to sell, you cannot blame the salesman if he is not very focused on what he is selling. The British Council have been helpful as a user. Some of the Members may know that I am Chairman of Techni-Quest and we have had a tremendous amount of help in portraying Wales abroad. The centre piece here is the partnership with the Commonwealth Secretariat at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Durban last year and in Brisbane next year, very much Wales on show, the very centre of all the exhibition and we had help in many ways from the British Council in doing this. Giving other examples, we have just been touring in Hong Kong and Beijing and are planning next year to do teacher training in China, again in association with the British Council. So there is a lot of help that we actually get in practice in really penetrating countries and their education systems.

Mr Caton

  102. Can I follow on about the question of promoting Wales specifically in the city of Brussels, which is an important centre for the whole of the European Union. We have had a memorandum from the Wales European Centre that says that it certainly found the British Council a helpful partner in the past, but I am going to read this paragraph because I think it is a matter of concern: "Despite past involvements, the British Council programme this year has had little Welsh involvement or representation. We understand that the British Council in Brussels and the British Council as a whole is reviewing its operations. This has meant a hiatus in programming and planning. It has been unfortunate that this has meant there is unlikely to be joint projects in this financial year. It is also unfortunate that, with the exception of an introductory meeting, there has been no formal consultations with Wales European Centre in the future of the British Council in Brussels and Luxembourg despite, we understand, some quite fundamental changes. We hope that the review will not mean that Wales interests are undermined by default or that the distinctive Wales contribution to the British context could be lost." Could you comment on that? I have to say that in this memorandum this is basically the only criticism of any body or organisation that they make, so they clearly are very concerned about their future relationship with the British Council.
  (Mr Green) That is the first I have heard of that. I am disturbed by that. I would like to look into that, and will look into that as soon as I get back. I do not know the specific reason for that criticism, because it is surprising in that the office that we have in Brussels is a strong office. I know that they take the projection and promotion of the devolved countries very, very seriously. Martin Rose, our director in Brussels, understands the issues very well and is very committed to doing this. I do find that very surprising. In terms of what we are doing with the office in Brussels, we are strengthening it. We believe that we have not got sufficient resources in the office in Brussels, both to project the British Council within Belgium and also within the European Union and the European Commission. Over the next year we will be strengthening the office. We will also be moving the office. I do not know if you have visited the Brussels office, it needs to be improved and it needs to be more prominent and more conspicuous, and we will be doing that. I take those comments very seriously and I will look into them and I will come back to you with a response.

Mr Caton

  103. You have clearly recognised, in some of the answers you have given, that there is a special opportunity for promoting Wales at the moment in the post-devolution period, and the First Secretary also made that very clear. We really need to use these months to push Wales up the international agenda. It seems a tragedy that if in the year, when we should really be doing that, the British Council in Brussels, a key capital, is actually, according to the Wales European Centre, cutting down on any promotion of Wales, and not involving itself with the Wales European Centre in the sort of partnership that they have had in the past.
  (Mr Deyes) May I respond to that, Mr Chairman. I, like David, am rather surprised by that comment. I was out in the Wales European Centre two months ago and what we were doing there was planning the St David's Day celebrations that will take the place on 1 March, 2001, in which the British Council, both in Wales and in Brussels, are going to have a significant involvement. Five events are planned altogether which involve our work. If I can enumerate those, one is a display from the Department of Design and Media at the University College of Newport, which is a great strength of Wales, as you will know, we want to put their exhibition on display. They have come up with a very high-tech display of linking Wales with Brussels, which we hope will be a success. There will also be a performance by the PM Ensemble, the chamber orchestra, which we had hoped was going to take place at the United Kingdom WAI residence, it is probably now going to be at the bilateral Ambassador's residence. I do not want to pre-empt his premises on this occasion, but that is where the latest indication says it will take place. There is also going to be a concert by the Fern Hill Traditional Music Group. In addition to that there will be other events which involve the British Council. I think there may have been confusion here with the British Council in Wales link, as I mentioned, with the Arts Council of Wales under the banner title of Wales Arts International. Wales Arts International, of which one of the members is the British Council of Wales, will be putting a certain sum of money into those events in Brussels, and equally the British Council in Brussels will be putting money into the events. I had a meeting in London on Wednesday last week with the Arts Officer from the British Council to Brussels to discuss those events and to put the final pieces in place for those events to take place. There is a small question of funding, but we are confidant that will come forward from sponsorship sources. As regards Luxembourg, I also know there are plans there to have a Welsh presence at the Ambassador's Trade Exhibition in September. We are not sure what that exhibit will be as far as Wales is concerned. I have been requested by our office in Brussels to find a suitable selection of industry exhibits from Wales which will be part of that trade fair. I am a little surprised to hear the comments from the Wales European Centre.

  104. The Wales' Week is something that has happened for several years now, that is not a new initiative.
  (Mr Deyes) It is not a new initiative, but I suggest it will be bigger and better this year than ever before, certainly the budget would indicate that.

  105. The Wales European Centre have got it wrong. Instead of there being less activities in which you work with them to promote Wales, there are going to be more.
  (Mr Green) That would be my expectation. That would certainly be my prediction for the future. We are strengthening our office in Brussels, making it more prominent and putting more resources into it. I think I need to look into that and come back to you.

  106. Is the problem the failure of consultation with the Wales European Centre by the British Council in your re-organisation?
  (Mr Green) I do not know the answer to that but I would doubt it. There has not been a freezing of the operation as we restructure that. It has continued business as usual, there has not been a change of staffing over the period. It is something of a mystery, I have to say.

  Mr Caton: You will look into it and come back to us.

  Chairman: We look forward to your note on that. Could we have one?

Mr Edwards

  107. The First Minister told us that the role of the British Council of Wales is primarily the promotion of places in higher education in Wales to overseas students and to develop an understanding, in the British Council, of the Welsh language and culture. What else does the British Council of Wales do?
  (Mr Green) It does a whole gamut of activities which the British Council is engaged in across the world. Some of the things are in relation to human rights and governance, and the interest that there is in devolution around the world, and we try to respond to that. On education we are promoting higher education institutions, further education institutions and English language institutions within Wales. We seek to promote the United Kingdom's strengths in terms of science and that, again, is reflected clearly in Wales, and also through all of the arts and culture that we are showcasing around the world. Again we draw very heavily on Wales in order to do that.
  (Mr Deyes) I think that really covers the ground. There are six areas of activity the British Council worldwide is engaged in, as David Green has said, the arts, governance, education, information, science and English language teaching. We have touched on all of those today and submitted evidence to this Committee, indeed we cover all of those. We give priority to education, science and the arts. Those are the particular strengths of Wales which we emphasise. We do attempt to cover the rest as well.

Mr Llwyd

  108. Earlier this year we received fairly trenchant criticism, especially from North America, about the British Council saying that the British Council abroad had not been supportive of the local proposals for Welsh initiatives, and it is not particularly interested in promoting Welsh culture, and the Welsh language in particular. Before I ask you whether you think this criticism is well-founded, I do note, Mr Green, that you did refer earlier to dance, music, painting, et cetera without a single word about the Welsh language and the written culture?
  (Mr Green) In response to that last comment, that was picked up by my colleague, Tony Deyes in relation to the interest that there is in the Welsh language around the world, and also bilingualism. In relation to the comment about North America, I was pleased to see that the First Minister defended the British Council and said that it is effective and it achieves a great amount given the resources that it has had available to it to project the British Council and the United Kingdom in North America. He said, "It must be quite tough to get a little squeak on Wales' behalf, but they have tried". It is fair to say that it is a pretty difficult task for an organisation like the British Council to penetrate the United States given the pervasive influence of the media within the United States, and also the fact that there are so many other different ways they are able to receive information about the United Kingdom. In terms of the very specific criticisms, that we are not prepared to promote Welsh culture or the Welsh language, that is not true in general. Again, we will need to look into that specific question. Whether that came from ex-patriots living in North America, I do not know. Without making a comment on a particular group of people, we do sometimes have a difficulty in terms of the gap in their understanding of what we are trying to promote, and our understanding. If you take that in connection with our work, and what I was saying earlier about wanting to project a contemporary view of the United Kingdom, including Wales, what we are trying to do is to present the best of Welsh culture at the cutting edge. If it is dance it would be companies like Diversions, Earth Fall and Eddie Ladd, and so on, and similarly in literature and in the performing arts. Sometimes we find ex-patriot communities tend to have a rather outdated view of the country from which they come, which is not helpful to that country in terms of projecting a contemporary image. I do not know if that is the case in this particular instance, but that is a general observation.

  109. What they were saying was they were trying to assist the promotion of Wales abroad and they were putting forward some ideas, and those ideas were being dispatched without any further thought given to them, in the bin, I am afraid. That is the way they took it.
  (Mr Green) I find that surprising. Talking about the future, one of the things that we are collaborating with the Britain Abroad Task Force is the NY/UK 2001, New York/United Kingdom 2001. From the proposals that have come in from various countries, in terms of what arts events we should be taking to New York, Wales has produced far more than any other country, so it is looking good from the Welsh point of view at the moment.
  (Mr Deyes) It is, as the First Minister indicated in his evidence, and as the Director General said, difficult to make an impact in the US because it is a huge territory. There may be a mismatch of expectancies as to what sort of Wales people want us to promote. Over the last 18 months we have had Rubicon Dance in Utah; we have had visual artists going out to The Sung Harbour Project in New York, which is a project lasting until 2002 for networking artists; we have had Menna Elfyn reading poetry in academic contexts. We do what we can. Clearly what we do is to engage with our colleagues in the British Council in Washington. We do what we can through their sensitivities to promote local needs and local interests to supply an image of Wales to the United States, which is modern, vibrant and attractive.

  Mr Llwyd: Can I just make my position clear, I am asking questions based on what I was told, I conclude neither one way nor the other. I am grateful to you both for the responses we have had.

Chairman

  110. You did touch on the Welsh language, Mr Green, can you give me any specific examples of promoting the Welsh language abroad? On an even more specific question, is it the case that the Patagonia Project is being funded by the Assembly and managed by yourselves?
  (Mr Green) Yes, it is. Tony Deyes is very well versed in the Patagonia Project, although when I was in Cardiff in June of this year, at the point when we were signing the Memorandum of Understanding with the Wales Arts Council, I had a briefing on the Patagonia Project, which is a very exciting one. Tony has the details of this.
  (Mr Deyes) It is a very exciting project. It is in its last phase now, and that does not in any way reflect on its success or otherwise. There was a time when it had to become self-sustaining, this it will do in 2003, when it comes to an end. It has been a very exciting project. Our role has been largely to post teachers to the Patagonia area, where they have taught Welsh in private and in public schools, and increased the use of Welsh amongst the communities there. We intend to go on doing that for the next couple of years. One of the ways in which we are hoping to make the project sustainable beyond the formal funding termination is to provide computers to some of those schools so that it will be possible for those schools to maintain links with schools in Wales, so that the Welsh language will remain alive.

  111. Was this the project Mr Ron Davis ensured the funding for?
  (Mr Deyes) Possibly. It was 1997.

  112. That is about right, yes.
  (Mr Green) Can I add one or two other examples of promoting the Welsh language? We supported a member of staff from the Welsh Language Board to take part in a seminar in California earlier this year. In October 2001 our unit called the International Networking Events, which is a conference organising unit within the British Council, will be organising, along with the Welsh Language Board, under the banner of the European Year for Languages, a conference in Cardiff on minority languages, to which some 80 to 100 international delegates will be invited. In our Welsh Festival in Croatia in March 2001 that will include a two week course in Welsh. I think there are a number of instances where we are promoting the Welsh language.

Mr Livsey

  113. Before asking my question I must congratulate you on the Patagonia Project, two friends of mine go to teach in Patagonia for about three months of the year. There is no doubt that the goodwill which has been promoted has been absolutely excellent on that. I get feedback—I sing in the same choir as one of these teachers—I get a lot of feedback. The National Assembly thinks that the work done by Wales Arts International, a body set up jointly by the British Council and the Arts Council of Wales, has been very successful. Is this a model or partnership which might be replicated in other fields? I would appreciate if Mr Plaut could have some input into this, particularly in relation to work, jobs, leading edge technology and things like that.
  (Mr Green) I am sure it is. I think it is very exciting, something which could be replicated not just in other sectors in Wales but also in other countries. It seems to me to bring together the best of all worlds, so that we make available our overseas network of 110 outlets and the Arts Council of Wales as a way into all the arts bodies within Wales. There is value-for-money and economy of scale and efficiency because of the partnership. I think it is an exciting partnership. There is a similar partnership in higher education through WHEILA, and maybe you would like to respond to the question of science and technology?
  (Mr Plaut) Yes. Unfortunately in a small community, which is what we are in Wales, you have a lot of competition as well as a lot of partnership. In higher education we tend not to be working nearly as closely as we should, and there tends to be a lot of rivalry. The British Council is, undoubtedly, an honest broker in doing enormously good work in bringing people together who, quite wrongly, believe themselves to be in competition with one other when they actually are very much complementary. The Director of Wales set up a small sub group to look at expanding the work. While we are losing a lot of industry, many of the companies coming in came in because it was cheap production but are now disappearing off to Eastern Europe, and we have to have other things to replace that. One of our most successful areas is in higher education. It is important that we grow that, and this is something which the British Council is really facilitating. There was not very much use or co-operation before and I am hoping—there is already quite a lot now—that we will be able to build on that to make it really successful and greatly increase those numbers, the economy certainly needs it.

  114. Could you give us some examples of what facets of higher education you are pursuing?
  (Mr Plaut) It is a question of knocking heads together. At the moment there is always a feeling in higher education that it has to be like Oxford or Cambridge. Higher education does not need another Oxford or Cambridge. Cardiff is doing a great job as a United Kingdom university, the rest of the universities are different and they have to market themselves for their very real strength. If you are talking to people in Islamic countries, one of the big advantages of Bangor, and the more outlying places, is that they are not in the middle of a city and, therefore, much safer for many of their students. We can sell the fact that they are small, and we should not be pretending they are anything else. We can make it a unique selling point, Lampeter is a good example. I believe that we should not be pretending that higher education colleges are in the same league as Cambridge. There is a huge demand for people who need more help, who are not terribly academic—only 10 per cent of the world is in the top 10 per cent of academic ability, the other 90 per cent are a very big market. We have institutions which have had a long history of being able to help people have very good tuition and we are very supportive. I have spoken to German students, for instance, who are absolutely amazed that they could speak to a lecturer immediately after a lecture, the lecturer is always open to them. At home they would have to make an appointment as least two weeks ahead. We have to sell that advantage, because they are much more likely to be successful coming to our colleges than they are going to a place that may be famous, where they might very well fail. We have to look at what our strengths are and play to them and publicise them. They are different traditional strengths from the idea we have grown up with, that the ideal is Oxbridge.

  115. There are changes going on in Wales as far as the arts are concerned, with rapprochement between Anglo/Welsh writers and Welsh language writers. Are you finding that that is, for example, happening in your work done by the Wales Arts International? If you think of the Irish in this context, who have made huge inroads, as everybody knows, in the English speaking world, there are many Irish writers. Is something of that kind going on in Wales Arts International to promote books?
  (Mr Deyes) I think you have probably put your finger on one of the hitherto weakest areas of Wales Arts International, it is the promotion of literature. We have attempted to redress that. We are supporting a conference between Welsh and Irish writers early next year in Dublin. We are sending a number of poets to Lisbon on St David's Day next year to promote Welsh writing, Landeg White and others will be there. We are talking with The Academi and other institutions, and Tony Blanchi will be involved in this to increase our support for literature. I do recognise that hitherto it has been the weakest area.

Mr Caton

  116. Still on Wales Arts International, its business plan has as its primary objective to become the Welsh Assembly's principal agency for cultural relations with other countries and regions and, as such, to act as a key player in the Welsh Assembly's International Strategy. Does this indicate that the British Council's work in promoting Wales will eventually be entirely through Wales Arts International? You suggested that they produce the stuff, if you like, and you offer the venues in your British Council offices, is that the way it is entirely going to go?
  (Mr Green) No. The area that Wales Arts International is concerned with is only one part of the British Council's work, as we have outlined in terms of the very, very wide range of areas of activity, from human rights, governance, running development projects, English language teaching and science promotion, which are all of the things which do not come under the banner of arts. The point I was making was that by having this collaboration with the Arts Council of Wales it gives a stronger voice for Wales internationally, because it provides this bridge and it provides a single access point in Wales for advice and information to the arts constituency, who are pursuing international work. We see it as an important mechanism for making sure that we are in touch, as an organisation, with the best of the arts organisations in Wales, which can then be used to promote Wales and the Welsh culture. I do not see there is a conflict there. As I said, it works very well and is something that could be thought about elsewhere.

Mr Edwards

  117. Under the Concordat on International Relations, the Assembly has two members on the Council's Welsh Committee, but not on the main Committee. How is the Assembly consulted in drawing up the British Council's overall objectives?
  (Mr Green) When you say the main Committee, do you mean the Board of the British Council?

  118. Yes.
  (Mr Green) The Chairman of the Welsh Advisory Committee sits on the main Board of the British Council. There are other members who do not have a representative function on the Board, people like Ffion Hague, who also sits on the British Council Board. The way in which the strategy I referred to was developed was using the Board. Obviously as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is our sponsoring ministry and department then the major consultation was with them. Certainly Tony Deyes was involved in the development of the strategy, and through him the Welsh Advisory Committee, so I am confident that the needs of Wales are reflected in the strategy. There was no formal consultation with the Assembly for Wales.

Chairman

  119. Do you have any plans to have any secondments with the Assembly?
  (Mr Green) No plans that I can tell you about. It is certainly an interesting idea, and something we would be happy to explore.

  120. Finally, a question of great importance to me personally and the constituency of Clwyd. As you are probably aware, the Llangollen Eisteddfod is in my constituency, I have a lot of feeling for it since it was born the same year as I was. Unfortunately, the organisers of the Llangollen International Eisteddfod have told us that in recent years you have refused to distribute their syllabus in your offices overseas—I do not know whether this is true or not, but that is their impression—generally they feel greater support and interest from the British Council would be helpful to them. What support do you give them? Is this a problem?
  (Mr Deyes) I shall certainly look into the fact that their publicity is not distributed overseas, this is a serious matter. We do need to follow that up because it is a prominent festival of Wales and it has an international flavour. In terms of support to them, in a sense this is an incoming event, international groups coming from overseas, and that is outside the remit, to some extent, of the British Council. We are more concerned with outward going events, although, I do know that at the last international meeting there were groups performing, albeit on the fringe—there was a Cuban dance group and a dance group from somewhere in the Arctic Circle, I cannot remember where they came from. We are very much aware of the festival as an opportunity for people to come into Wales. We talk to our sister organisation Visiting Arts, which is the organisation which brings people into the United Kingdom, when the Eisteddfod requests assistance from us. I shall certainly look into the publicity angle.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. There are no further questions. Thank you very much for coming.


 
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