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Ian

May I, as someone who has taken advantage of your blog to publicise some of the British Council's highly dubious activities, offer you my warmest congratulations!

Your blog is, at the very least, an irritation to the British Council and, hopefully, much more than that. It is quite clear that they take notice of what you write and we all hope that this obliges them to be a little more circumspect about what they get up to.

Keep up the good work!

David

Thank you Ian. Thank you for your noteworthy, high profile, brave contributions to the blog, and for your support. Cheers!

Chris

David, when you went into business with the British Council, you stumbled over a particularly egregious fault line between the public and private sectors. I am so glad the experience didn't entirely trip up your own honest business. It's a travesty that an organisation with such noble stated objectives, holding itself out as the official representative of the United Kingdom, so frequently undermines its own values.

With 200 daily visitors to your blog, I'm disappointed a few of them haven't taken this opportunity to comment (in whatever vein they feel appropriate). Their silence reinforces my suspicion that people in the British Council only fear the gravy train will stop rolling if they murmur a note of dissent.

The organisation has acquired a culture that neuters any employee who shows an ounce of initiative or integrity. It will take an outsider to root out its perverse incentives. Thanks to this blog, that day may come sooner. Anyone who is proud to bear a British passport should be grateful for David Blackie.

David

Chris - thank you too. I think you are right about dissent from within - only an organisation which runs on an internal culture of fear and sycophancy would also use denial and obfuscation as standard methodology. One senses something in common with Zim perhaps. But it is not just bad, of course; it is unacceptable. We pay taxes to support this organisation, we have no choice. And if we pay taxes we have a right to a say. And we have a right to demand that they do not use our money to compromise our business, especially deliberately. What we all must do surely, as a minimum, is demand that adequate checks and balances are put into place so that their excesses are curbed and that they are obliged to observe some sort of principle.

Arthur

Thanks putting so much work into illuminating some (though not all, I fear) of the dark corners of the British Council. It's one of the paradoxes of life as touched by the BC that if you had spent the same amount of time working overseas for it as you have exposing it, you'd now be in line for an automatic OBE.

I do not think, however, that any system of checks and balances instituted by a government is ever going to curb the British Council. The reason for this is that all governments since the early 1980s have been happy to reach financial accomodations with the Council in return for help with matters (intelligence and others) which those governments have wanted to see paid for by the Whitehall equivalent of 'off-balance-sheet' finance.

The Council will only ever be called to account by the PAC for the way in which it spends GiA money. The money it generates by its own operations is not public money, so how it came into the coffers is not the PAC's concern. The Council is (legally at least) an independent chartered body, and, so the BC orthodoxy runs, its commercial operations are its own concern and nobody else's. It's just those slightly-difficult-to-explain paper transfers between King Charles Street and Spring Gardens which, one day, may catch the right person's eye. Then you might have a chance....

"... internal culture of fear and sycophancy ... denial and obfuscation". It doesn't sound much like a strictly cultural organisation does it? All that morphing the BC does from experts in ELT, to authorities on governance, to tireless campaigners against global warming is no accident. As they said at the time of Watergate, "follow the money." All of it, not just some of it.

So this time, 'close but no cigar'. A slim panatella, however, in recognition of your fine work. Keep it up.

David

A bit of an uphill feel to all that, Arthur, but your insights are much appreciated, and thanks for the hard-earned slim panatella.

Chris

Arthur, as a former language teacher at the British Council, I took a genuine interest in education and its use in cultural relations. It is rather depressing to read that I served as cover for intelligence gathering and a source of income for unspecified government activities.

However you help to explain why democratic controls have been overridden at the British Council. Fortunately the organisation is accountable to the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC), as well as the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). The FAC ought not to accept such a narrow definition of its remit, although we can question whether it is supervising the Council effectively at present.

Of course it is foreign revenue authorities and other regulatory bodies that have a direct legitimate interest in the Council's commercial activities overseas. It can only be due to the Foreign Office's application of diplomatic influcence that foreign governments by and large give the organisation a wide berth. That is an abuse of the British Council's actual legal status.

Since the British Council's very name probably does suggest a diplomatic association to many, it is only proper that the organisation should acknowledge its independent status in dealings with partners overseas. It needs to cut free from Foreign Office meddling and guard its independence like the BBC.

That probably calls for more powerful and effective trustees.

Arthur

You are exactly right, Chris.

The Council is accountable to the FAC and the PAC, although, as David has documented, in face-to-face meetings both of these bodies seem, at best, baffled by, and, at worst, indifferent to the Council's own explanations of its operations. One wonders whether the Council's 'value-for-money' in other areas is a factor.

As you say, diplomatic influence overseas is a great help in keeping foreign revenue authorities at arm's length, unless, as was the case in Russia, the government in question has a point to prove and the political will to do so.

Where the Council operates dictates how 'independent' it portrays itself to be to host governments. However, it's the need for diplomatic protection which ensures that the Council will never, in reality, cut itself free from government. The help to earn large amounts of untaxed money is much more valuable to the Council than real independence.

I am sure you are correct about the need for more powerful trustees, although I have no idea how they are currently appointed. Any ideas?

Val Sloth

Still enjoying the blog.

I have a query I thought I'd throw into the ring as my curiosity has the better of me.

I worked for the BC for many years and rarely met anyone from the UK who had ever heard of it.

Now I understand David's reasons for the blog and his continuing battle to get to the truth as they are fairly clear and well documented throughout the blog.

My own gripe was the rather annoying musical chairs management style that rarely saw any meaningful change at the top. The results of this stagnation and indifference form the continuing feed source for the blog.

With this in mind, and the obscure position the BC holds within the UK, what then is Arthur's gripe about the BC based upon?

neil robertson

With all due respect to Val Sloth
'the musical chairs management style' referred to is a recipe
for mediocrity: and corruption.

I have crates full of (original) documents obtained using the DPA
and FOI - before British Council
realised the full scope of that
new UK 'freedom of information' legislation: & that is damning!

I got the internal e-mail traffic;
their internal accounting records;
most of their correspondence with central government; and almost all their correspondence with
the overseas body involved in
a particular scandal I exposed
[some items were redacted - on
grounds that they might cause
diplomatic embarrassement to
the United Kingdom and to BC].

I also have documentary 'proof'
of how a senior British Council
executive [he is still in there]
deliberately misled Ministers on
a matter in which he had a clear
but undeclared personal conflict of interest. I also have e-mail
confirming that British Council
systematically blocked enquiries,
weeded files, destroyed internal evidence, and requested a £200k
budget increase for a nonexistent
project in an attempt to buy off
overseas officials and to subvert
the fiscal rules of the overseas Ministry I was tasked to defend
(if necessary until my dying day).

Delenda est concilium Britannicum.
BC can keep trying to rip out the
tongues of its critics - internal and external - but they are scared
of David Blackie's weblog .. very,
very scared ... and rightly so ..!

Here's to you, David, on this 3rd anniversary: "Truth will triumph!"

David

Thank you Neil for this, and indeed for your regular support for the blog. La lutte continue!

neil robertson

http://www.traverse.co.uk/show_detail.php?id=432

Arthur

Val (or Ms Sloth?),

On the assumption that you are not just asking 'what's a nice chap like you doing on a blog like this', I'd just say that while I am not sure I would describe it as a 'gripe', my contributions to David's blog are motivated by the desire to see a much greater degree of honesty and transparency about all of its operations from the British Council.

David's blog is valuable in bringing the full scope of the Council's activities to a wider public. A real, in-depth, independent review of the BC's operations is well overdue. In the meantime, this blog is the best concerned people have.


Val Sloth

Arthur - That was my question on a nutshell. You called me "Ms Sloth" which suggests a certain familiarity, do we know each other already?

Any clues/hints?

David V.

Congratulations on your continuing fine work. Your blog is a must read.

David

Thank you, David. All support is greatly appreciated.

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