We turn again to the British Council. The only body to operate commercially out of UK diplomatic premises worldwide, to go in to any country under government cover as the official cultural relations organisation, the only government sponsored organisation to collect commercial contracts overseas for itself without having to see them offered elsewhere, and so on. It also has a monopoly of the “Prime Minister’s Initiative”. Now it’s pretty clear that current PM Cameron has as little use for foreign students as Brown did, and the “PMI” brand – which was supposed to encourage overseas students - is but a hangover of the Blair era. But in government these things take a while to unwind, and we still have the dreadful “Education UK” brand, and associated activities. And a key player in “Education UK” is Hunt.
In 2001 the British Council put it about that the contract for the “Education UK” website had been won by Hotcourses Ltd, of which Jeremy Hunt is CEO and major shareholder. When the site was condemned at launch as a disaster in January 2002, the panicked British Council announced that they had contracted a “consortium” of Hotcourses, UCAS, CSU and Yahoo. They did this on their website and in circulars to all education institutions. But it was not true: the contract had gone to Education Websites Ltd with a share of the profits going to the British Council. That contract states unequivocally that CSU and UCAS have no involvement whatsoever. There is no mention of Yahoo anywhere in the deal. Jeremy Hunt evidently had no problem with this grotesque and shameful misrepresentation. In 2005, in answer to a Freedom of Information enquiry, the British Council said there had been no change to this contractual arrangement. That was not true either: the contract had been switched in 2004 from Education Websites Ltd to Sheffield Data Ltd (owned by Hotcourses and UCAS, so no CSU and not even the ghost of Yahoo. No more profit-sharing with the British Council either). In March 2005 there was an organised covert attempt to bury their original contractor Education Websites Ltd, when it swapped names with specially incorporated Remone Ltd and a request was made to have Remone Ltd (ie. the original Education Websites) struck from the register (you can look up Remone Ltd free of charge under “Dissolved Names” on the Companies House webcheck site – look for the company’s previous name). This was a publicly funded operation supporting the interests of British education and backed by the Prime Minister. They used a £100 company, lied about its status and contract, covertly swapped contractual arrangements in 2004, lied about that, and tried to cover it all up. It was a publicly funded deception overseen by the British Council.
Nobody comes out of that well, and setting aside the narrow interests of the British Council and Hotcourses Ltd nobody has been well served. Today the British Council’s contract is with Sapient, but the sales and marketing contract is still with Hotcourses Ltd. So the Secretary for Culture, Media and Sport has already had a 10 year monopoly on selling the monopoly activity of the British Council. In the circumstances not the ideal qualification for the task at hand.