I have read the executive summary and there may be more when I have read the full report. So here’s an initial response, and let’s start with the good.
- The report says there is “scope for more consistent delivery of high quality product across the board”.
- The report acknowledges that there are conflicts of interest in the org in acting as gatekeeper and advisor on projects which it may seize for itself and thus deny proper open competition.
- It says the Council needs a business model whereby it acts “transparently and accountably in line with its purpose as set out in the Royal Charter”.
- It recommends that the FCO “strengthen capability and and mechanisms to to exercise oversight of British Council activity”.
These are all points made on this blog for almost ten years so we are glad that something is at last to be done, or at least that a need is perceived. However the report fails to see the issue of competition,with genuine tax-paying British enterprise, from a government sponsored organisation, as the fundamental outrage that it is. Businesses work through enterprise, and prosper or die depending on their ability to manage market forces, their cash-flow, calculate risks and actions etc., and they pay taxes for the privilege of being UK based. The British Council receives money paid in tax by such enterprises, uses taxpayer-funded resources in terms of overseas representations to advance its commercial interests, enjoys subsidy, government support, multiple government contracts, tax advantages at home and overseas and civil service pension arrangements, and it also owns multiple overseas companies (USA, Mexico, Hong Kong, India etc.) to ensure that as little tax as possible is paid here. Since as a public body it can’t go under and all pensions will be paid etc. there is unlimited scope for moral hazard. It competes unfairly thanks to government indulgence.That is nothing short of outrageous.
One notion mooted in the review is the establishment of a “commercial, legal entity for income generating activity …with its own Board of Directors reporting to the main British Council Board”. No, no, no, no. The writers of this report appear not to understand the low standing of those who run this organisation. There are many others who could produce evidence of their lack of integrity, but let me give a few examples here:
- It was the British Council Board who (to my cost) told my entire client base that it had contracted a consortium of Hotcourses, UCAS, CSU and Yahoo. That was untrue. It had in fact contracted a £100 company “Education Websites Ltd”. In the contract it states specifically that UCAS and CSU were to play no role of any kind. There is no mention anywhere, in the contract or the shareholding, of Yahoo. It was a malicious misrepresentation designed to promote the commercial interests of the British Council at the expense of legitimate British business.
- It was the British Council who advised me, IN ANSWER TO A FoI ENQUIRY in 2005, and so on behalf of its board, that there had been no changes to the (Education Websites) contract it had signed in 2001. In fact it had just signed a new contract with a different company (Sheffield Data Ltd).
- At the time when the British Council advised me that there had been no changes to their contract with Education Websites Ltd, a crude attempt was being made to bury that company and put it out of sight. A company called Remone Ltd was incorporated in early 2005 which then swapped names with Education Websites Ltd, so that anyone who did investigate that company would get taken off the scent. Most traces of this appear to have been removed now from Companies House, although the facts can still be proved.
- At a time when the British Council Chief David Green, and the Chair of Trustees Lord Kinnock told parliamentary committees that grant-in-aid money and its commercial activities were completely separate and even that it was “impossible” for grant money to subsidise its commercial activities, grant money was being used to pay the fees of Gaddafi’s cronies at the Council’s own school in Tripoli. That was revealed through an FoI enquiry.
- When the British Council trustees undertook a “thorough and independent investigation” of my complaints they appointed an insider who was actually given paid employment by them while at the same time supposedly investigating complaints against them. This “investigator” interviewed me twice, but interviewed nobody, not one soul - much less the management responsible - from the British Council, and did not mention my specific complaints, much less address them in his “report”. And finally he recommended that I should be paid £10,000 in “expenses”. There was a clear case for the trustees rejecting this non-report, and at the very least enquiring why they should pay £10,000 in expenses when no expenses had been claimed. But no, they wanted me to take the money and shut up. Bad move, guys. And shame on you. It was not only not thorough and not independent, it was a bloody disgrace.
There’s plenty more where that came from. The FCO must this time do the job properly, and work with people of quality.