23 September 2021

British Council crisis: new foreign secretary urged to meet with PCS

PCS General Secretary, Mark Serwotka, has written to new foreign secretary, Liz Truss, in her first week in office to request her intervention in the current crisis at British Council.

Following a disastrous hit to its income generation from pandemic-related business closures, charity the British Council was kept afloat by loans from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). The conditions of these loans have been kept secret, but the Council has stated that the loans were provided on the basis of drastic pay bill savings from its budgets. In July, the Council commenced formal redundancy consultation over staffing cuts of 15 – 20% to satisfy FCDO as its lender.

As its operations are slowly recovering and their business model developing, in time the British Council’s revenues will return to pre-pandemic levels. PCS believes to place stringent expectation of immediate cuts leads to ill thought-out decision making, with the likelihood of a need to replace the jobs that have been cut in two to three years’ time.

In his letter Mark described this as a “wasteful use of public funds.”

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Lack of information

Management has yet to provide PCS with either its business case or future operating model. Managers have not provided basic financial information which PCS believes that they are legally required to do so before taking steps to make staff redundant.  

On 8 September, the PCS Parliamentary Group Chair, Chris Stephens, challenged the then minister with responsibility to meet with him and PCS to address the lack of transparency that the British Council and FCDO are operating under.

FCDO has also announced its plans to change the Council’s charitable status, so that it can ‘streamline’ the administration.

Additional announcements from BC make clear that further cuts are still to come, with a recent proposal to privatise 11 facilities management jobs to the private sector from November.

Management has also proposed to reduce individual redundancy consultation from 30 to 15 days. This will reduce the ability for staff to be redeployed into other areas of work and increase the likelihood of compulsory redundancies.

The seriousness of the situation is such that PCS members are considering balloting for strike action if the process cannot be halted.

If the new foreign secretary is serious about ‘Global Britain’ then she must respond to our request for talks over the crisis at The British Council.

Source URL: https://www.pcs.org.uk/news-events/news/british-council-crisis-new-foreign-secretary-urged-meet-pcs