FCO ‘losing its value’ – Lord Hurd

Lord Hurd has warned that the Foreign Office risks losing its value as a “store of knowledge” due to its excessive management culture.

Addressing the House of Lords, the former Foreign Secretary, who also served as a diplomat early in his career, said: “The Foreign Office in London is increasingly becoming an office of management – management of a steadily shrinking overseas service.”

He went on to say that “targets, departmental strategic objectives and public service agreements” were taking the organisation back to the 19th century diplomacy of Lords Palmerston and Salisbury.

“I worry now that the Foreign Office in London may be reverting… to an age of super-clerks, rather than policy advisers who have time to think and to bring weight to bear through their advice to Ministers,” he said, adding: “My main concern is that the Foreign Office is being hollowed out.”

While accepting that fiscal discipline was important, he said he was concerned that FCO resources was not being allocated effectively.

Lord Hurd’s comments coincided with the publication of an FCO Stakeholder Survey – compiled by 136 interviews with senior representatives across government, parliament, the media, business and non-governmental organisations and faith groups – which criticised the FCO for “too great a focus on procedures, service levels and ‘ticking boxes’ rather than on diplomacy and thinking strategically.”

The report goes on to warn that lack of resources is leaving the FCO overstretched: “There is a fear of losing the ‘British voice’ by not having enough resources to get the British voice heard within institutional bodies such as the UN.”

The FCO’s own staff survey last year found just 35% believed the promotion process was fair and objective, while feelings of job security had dropped by 14% to 42%.
And an independent “cultural audit” carried out last year found that while staff enjoyed working for the FCO, they often found the department to be “too conformist, consensual, bureaucratic and risk averse”.