The answer of course is that there isn’t any body to oversee the British Council. The BBC finally get caught fixing phone-ins (I mean really, what sort of grubby behaviour is that?) and so fined £400,000. Which is of course not nearly enough – they ought to lose their charter. But at least they were caught, and at least something, however inadequate, was done about it. But what about the British Council?
Anyone who has complained about anything at all to the British Council will know that the response is either a compost of patronising evasion and obfuscation, or no response at all. They do that because they can. They do that because they can just do it, and get away with it and know that there is no line of appeal. The trustees offer no sort of solution. The chair, Lord Kinnock, is the organisation’s lead salesman and apologist, and the other trustees might just as well be bussed in from Madame Tussauds for all the good they are. The FCO does not reply, the official Ombudsman can’t deal with anything involving commerce or contracts which is of course precisely where all the worms are canned, and Parliament generally regards the British Council as some sort of national treasure which should be allowed to get on with using diplomatic privilege, charitable status, government status and outrageous subsidy to earn money any way they want without supervision or interference. They (all) refer to that formula as being “at arm’s length”.
The British Council needs supervision. Not just because they are frequently up to no good and because their culture of “loyalty” means that ranks must be closed whenever they get rumbled, but because they simply do not have the mechanisms or the skills to monitor themselves. If we really are to continue to have to put up with this absurd anomaly of an organisation, then in the name of democracy it must be made properly accountable. Like the BBC. So, although in principle one does not want any more quangos, and there is always a danger of quangos getting too cosy with each other, my initial suggestion would be that the government establish an equivalent of Ofcom for the British Council.
Any suggestions for what such a body might be called? Ofbluff? Ofpriv? Ofcon?