Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Minutes of Evidence


  The British Council works hard to ensure that the full diversity of the United Kingdom is reflected in our work overseas and I hope we successfully communicated that to the Committee.

  During the course of the session on 12 December, Martin Caton MP asked me (Q107) for my reaction to paragraph 5.7 of the memorandum to the Committee from the Wales European Centre (WEC), which was critical of the British Council in Brussels. You will recall that I expressed my surprise at their comments and undertook to write to the Committee when I had looked into the matter.

  I have consulted with Martin Rose, the British Council's director in Brussels, and he shares my surprise at the WEC's comments. In addition to Martin's discussions with the WEC, visits to Brussels have been made by Tony Deyes, Director Wales (who you will recall gave evidence to the Committee) and Paul de Quincey, our Director UK. Both made a point of visiting the WEC and discussing with its Director, Joseph Gallacher, how we might work more closely to promote the interests of Wales in Brussels.

  Martin has written to Mr Gallacher, suggesting a meeting if he feels there is a problem with our work for Wales in Brussels or our relationship with the WEC.

  In the meantime I would like to respond to the two specific criticisms made by the WEC in their memorandum.

The British Council programme this year has had little Welsh involvement or representation

  I would like to bring the Committee's attention to the following selection of our recent Welsh activities, all either initiated, funded, or co-funded, by the British Council, Brussels.

    —  The WEC's last (March 2000) St David's Day programme contained two purely British Council events (Operation Tournesol and Urban Beat/Community Music Wales) which were absorbed into the programme; and another three to which we contributed financially (Arts from Wales, Poems & Pints and Julie Murphy).

    —  Discussions with the Minister of Education of the francophone community, Pierre Hazette, about Wales-Wallonie educational links, resulting in his attending the opening of Wales House.

    —  Keynote speech by Paul Murphy, Secretary of State for Wales, to the first (Council-organised) Belgo-British conference at Bruges (October 2000).

    —  Visit by Earthfall dance company to Brussels (one week, October 2000). This was their second visit in 12 months.

    —  Visit to Cardiff by a BC consultant from Brussels, to discuss programming with BC Director Wales, to arrange Rubicon Dance residency (see below) and to finalise work on our major Brussels CD-Rom publication with its Cardiff-based designer/publisher (November 2000).

    —  Publication of an article by Mr Gallacher about the WEC in Britain in Brussels (a British Council directory of British interests in Brussels, distributed free to 5,000+ recipients, in the Commission, European Parliament, business, government, lobbying etc) (December 2000).

    —  Visit to London for Wales Promotional Strategy meeting, by the British Council, Brussels' Arts Manager (December 2000).

  The WEC's memorandum also states:

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.

  During the course of my evidence to the Committee I made reference to the British Council's new strategy which takes us up to 2005. It is essential that we review our operations from time to time in order to ensure that we effectively reflect the contemporary nature of the United Kingdom.

  I was surprised to learn from the Committee that the WEC felt time spent on our review of strategy has resulted in a perceived pause of our programming for the promotion of Wales in Brussels.

  In addition to the work undertaken on behalf of Wales in the current year, referred to above, the Committee will want to know of our programmed work for Wales in Brussels and Luxembourg in the coming year.

    —  Welsh concert (PM ensemble) and St David's Day reception at the Ambassador's residence (March 2001).

    —  Current discussion of WEC participation in a Cultural Tourism seminar organised by the British Council with Scotland House (March 2001).

    —  Budget commitment of £5-7,000 to the 2001 St David's Day celebration (March 2001).

    —  Special Needs residency at a Brussels Special Needs school by Rubicon Dance (March 2001).

    —  Negotiations currently in train for a Welsh design centrepiece at the Britain-in-Luxembourg trade fair (September 2001).

  The review the British Council is currently undertaking is designed to ensure that our promotion of the United Kingdom is delivered with efficiency, making full use of new technological developments and achieves maximum impact in countries where we run programmes.

  I can assure the Committee that the overall purpose of The British Council is not part of the review. We exist to enhance the reputation of the United Kingdom. In order to achieve this it is essential that we reflect the unique strengths of every constituent part of the UK. The Council's devolution policy and guidelines, updated versions of which were distributed to all overseas offices last month, are an essential component in the composition of strategies for each country.

  Finally I would like to thank the Committee members for their constructive comments during the session. We very much welcome advice from elected members as a way of informing our work overseas. I would like to reiterate the offer I made during the Committee session to members to visit Council offices when they are abroad. We would always be grateful for any advice and comments on how best to represent Wales overseas.

David Green
Director General

21 December 2000

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