We pass on here a letter from another enterprise - Lynden Language School - that has suffered a mauling as a result of the subsidised machinations of the British Council.
What a relief it was to find your articles on the unscrupulous practices of the British Council.
We are a private language school operating in Maputo since 1991. About 4 years ago we received a visit from someone who was doing a survey on EFL teaching in Mozambique. The alarm bells should have started ringing there and then since the person involved was the wife of the then Director of the British Council in Maputo. So in our innocence (or downright stupidity) we supplied her with all the information on how we operated and subsequently were more than a little put out to find that the British Council had decided to move one up from the few scattered courses they were giving and go full on into offering courses at similar prices, timetables and even the way we split the levels.
Well to cut a long story short over the last 4 years we have written to David Green, Neil Kinnock, been to the Deputy High Commissioner and received all the wonderful reasons in the world as to why they have every right to operate as a business under the guise of a charity, not pay taxes, go in direct (unfair) competition with a local school who pay taxes, have overheads, treat their teachers fairly etc etc ad nauseam - this must be familiar to you.
Although we seem to have come up against a brick wall, at least where the Council are concerned, the fight does go on albeit with rest periods.
Look out Council and do not underestimate the two middle-aged women running this school - we will fight the good fight and WIN.
We wish them the very best of British and Mozambican luck.
The last time the British Council gave “evidence” to the FAC in Portcullis House, as blogged before, I was there. Regular readers of this blog (and I am pleased to report that accesses recently passed the 10,000 mark) will know that one thing that irks me is that we taxpayers subsidize this organisation, which then uses the subsidy to compete with taxpaying enterprise in Britain and overseas. This use of our money is, I submit, undemocratic, unsustainable and unacceptable. You would not of course expect the British Council to agree.
From the evidence referred to, consider this question from Mr Hamilton: …. do you think there will come a time when the British Council will ever be self-financing? Sir David Green: No. Q199 Mr Hamilton: Why not? Sir David Green: First, can I nail one thing and that is that all of the work we do in terms of teaching English through our language schools and the examinations that we promote on behalf of examination boards is not in any way subsidised by the grant-in-aid. It is a completely separate operation and there is no subsidy of those operations by the grant.
Ponder. Asked by an MP whether the BC would ever be self-financing, the DG is immediately on the defensive. He wants us to believe that the money the BC makes from teaching and exams is “completely separate” from so-called “grant-in-aid” money (which means taxpayers’ money). The claim is, of course, nonsense. Sitting beside the DG was his deputy Martin Davidson and his finance director Margaret Mayne. So while these three sit there asserting that these elements are “completely separate”, who is paying their salaries? Who is paying for the rest of their general overhead? Who is paying for their pensions? And that’s just three employees - what about the rest of them? It is, of course, us who pay for them through tax. Are British Council employees completely separate from the business for which they are responsible? Please.
The British Council uses words differently from normal human beings. When a BC manager says “completely separate” what he means is “inextricably bound up”. When a British Council manager wrote to tell me in 2002 that its new English language course database, quite obviously a clone of ours, was the result of “independent research” the manager used the words “independent” and “research” eccentrically. If a leading chef works in a kitchen and produces a dish, and the trained-up sous-chefs learn how to make the dish, and they then prepare it and sell it elsewhere and claim it is their own, do we call that “independent research”? And if we uncover a furtive commitment to reproduce the dish, with identical ingredients, by these sous-chefs while yet in training, would we say that their work was creative and original, or would we see plainly that it was a rip-off? The question is, of course, rhetorical.
The supposed purpose of the British Council is “Public Diplomacy” i.e. the idea is to make people overseas feel good about Britain. But do we British really want to be represented by these people? The organisation is dependent on us taxpayers. We pay their salaries, we pay for their establishment, we pay for their early retirement, and we pay for their pensions. They get every privilege going, and they mess about, furtively and unaccountably, with enterprise at home and abroad. The British Council is essentially a parasite on the British taxpayer, it is the enemy of free enterprise, it is opaque and unaccountable, it is absurdly self-indulgent, and basically a bloody nuisance. As long as we taxpayers are prepared to go on paying them over half a million pounds a day, they will go on being arrogant and interfering, and believing that they can do whatever they want and get away with it. And as long as there is no mechanism in government to keep it in order, and as long as the British Council trustees remain supine, uncritical and adoring rather than involved, committed and professional, we taxpayers can only hope that radical change will, at some as yet unidentified point in the future, introduce values associated with democracy such as (genuine) accountability and transparency. The simpler, cheaper and better solution would be to scrap it.
Geddit? Not only the intrusive apostrophe, but also the attempt to make plural a word that is plural already - the sort of howler that is all too prevalent in modern Britain. The British Council is not, as far as we know anyway, guilty of that one. But a few days ago we remarked on the British Council's failure to pick up their chairman's "El Quixote" (presumably pronounced "elkwikzot") and "communciations" in their annual report, and today I can report that things get no better even when the British Council and the BBC work together to produce materials for, er, teaching English.
Look at this: "Help your students' hear the sounds of English by clicking on the symbols of this pronunciation chart." Help your what? The offence will be found here.
NB. I acknowledge that the material quoted is, as it says on the page referred to, the copyright of the British Council. I can also guarantee that my use of the material is only for educational purposes, and is in no way being "used or circulated for financial gain". We also note that "teaching English does however promote English language courses, publications teacher training and other educational services offered by the British Council". Use for financial gain is OK for some then. (And yes, in that last quote there is a comma missing).
The report is a puff for the British Council, as it makes clear with a certain naïve candour at the beginning. “It is our public record of our achievement over a financial year. As such it is a snapshot of our achievements and endeavours”. The close repetition of “achievement” is but one indication of the organisation’s neurosis, while another key word from the mantra is, once again, “trust”. As with “achievement”, it seems that the Council believes that repeated use of the word will somehow create substance.
“In today’s interdependent but increasingly fractious world, the British Council’s pre-eminent task of generating understanding and trust has emphatic importance for the United Kingdom and for the people we work with and serve across the planet”.
“It is secured and developed best by evidence of high quality, creativity and values that – in the British Council’s case – is conveyed through the patient and innovative commitment of our staff to accumulating trust …”.
“The British Council builds trust and credibility with people in the region ...”.
“…by providing good quality and integrity in delivering UK qualifications across the world, we help build a platform of trust…”
“…our work in partnership with governments in education and English, and in encouraging intercultural understanding, helps build much-needed trust…”
“The British Council is helping the UK succeed by building trust…”
It is the same ploy as the repetition of commitments to openness, transparency, accountability and so on – and just as reliable. The organisation is in fact not open, not transparent, not accountable, and not trustworthy.
But let’s take something we approve of, namely the cooperation in developing bilingualism in public schools in Spain. Assuming the Council are employing Britain’s best experts to manage this project, this looks like a worthwhile project. No baloney here about trust and transparency, this is a tangible project designed to advance the opportunities and outlook of young Spaniards. And it is one of which the chair, Lord Kinnock of Bedwellty, also clearly approves. Never mind that he misspells the name of the school he visited as “El Quixote” (a French official in the same position might perhaps have thought he was visiting a school called “El Quichotte”), or that this typo was not picked up by the army of British Council proofreaders (who also missed “communciations” under the picture of their DG collecting an award), the important thing is of course the students’ education, and the school (they say “El Quijote” over there, chaps, with a dashed rum pronunciation too) is, as we are told by Lord K, in the “working class” Vallecas area of Madrid. Coincidentally this is the same school that was identified as a venue for the poet Tony Norman to visit under the British Council’s “Zero Carbon City” project. Reporting on that elsewhere, the British Council happily spell the name of the school correctly (but miss the reference to the working classes).
The trouble with the British Council is that they bring criticism on themselves. Their insatiable appetite for self-praise has to survive along side their reluctance to look facts in the face or to communicate with people in their own back yard, and along side their tendency to sweep the maximum under their own magic carpet. If only they would really show leadership, professionalism, integrity, transparency and so on, then we and others might start to trust them. Meanwhile use of the long spoon continues to be indicated. * Definition of Quixotic from the Wiktionary: “Possessing or acting with the desire to do noble and romantic deeds, without thought of realism and practicality.”