Wednesday, January 4, 2012

So where do we stand on the British Council?

The website of this august and somewhat expensive quango tells us that their most popular pages are to do with learning English, teaching English and various other things to do with education and English. That is right and proper. On the other hand, it is not easy to discover exactly what the purpose of the organization is. There are a lot of trendy words and concepts but what is it for (apart from providing various members of the Kinnock family with jobs from time to time)?

Wikipedia in a surprisingly sober language tells us
The British Council is a United Kingdom-based organisation specialising in international educational and cultural opportunities. It is registered as a charity both in England and Wales, and in Scotland. Founded in 1934 as the British Committee for Relations with Other Countries, and granted a royal charter by King George VI in 1940, the British Council was inspired by Sir Reginald (Rex) Leeper's recognition of the importance of "cultural propaganda" in promoting British interests. Its "sponsoring department" within the United Kingdom Government is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, although it has day-to-day operational independence. Martin Davidson is its chief executive, appointed in April 2007.
So, it is there to promote British interests. Right. Got that. Let us, however, go on the Brussels office's page. What do we find? Well, one thing we do not find and that is the word "British". There is a meaningless introductory paragraph:
We are the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations with other countries. Our approach to cultural relations is a broad one. It covers governance and human rights as well as the arts, science, education and inter-cultural dialogue - and we set out deliberately to break down the boundaries between them.
The rest of the text is no better. Sir Rex Leeper would have been horrified by the waffle. Still, one or two things can be learnt. For instance:
The Brussels Office serves as the British Council hub for Europe. Brussels is the capital city of one of the UK's closest neighbours, the location of many of Europe's key institutions, and the centre of intense discussions - and decisions - about issues that affect every European citizen. Our main purpose in being here is to engage in those discussions, to contribute fresh thinking and ideas, and to enable those whose voices may not otherwise be heard to take part. By working with partners from Belgium, the rest of Europe and beyond, we hope that creative and innovative thinkers from the UK will influence, and at the same time be influenced by, creative and innovative thinkers in the rest of Europe.
Well, well. Is that promoting British interest, the British culture and the English language, which, to be fair, does not need all that much promoting these days. Apparently, that is not important enough to talk about. This, however, is:
We play an important role in keeping our colleagues throughout the British Council's global network informed about EU developments: in science, education, the arts, development and governance. This alerting our colleagues to opportunities for EU-funded projects and helping them to win EU support for projects in their countries.
I am willing to bet that they all get very handsome salaries and expenses in the British Council's Brussels office for the work of promoting EU propaganda.

ADDENDUM: A reader kindly sent me this  link to the relevant accounts but my laptop refuses to open it and keeps telling me that the file is damaged and cannot be repaired. I shall look into it when I am back on my larger computer. In the meantime, here is the quote the same reader found:
Restricted Activity includes £49 million (2010: £53 million) of income and expenditure relating to projects carried out on behalf of the European Commission.
Time for a few more questions, methinks.


  1. And the detail of their efforts is far far worse than that

  2. "So where do we stand on the British Council?" The neck.

  3. Just like the old Foreign Office, now the FCO, they work in the interests of the foreign countries not our own. Can they be sued for misleading advertising? Taking money under false pretences? Fraud? It is in any case not a charity by any stretch of the imagination.

  4. From the BC's latest accounts: "Restricted Activity includes £49 million (2010: £53 million) of income and expenditure relating to projects carried out on behalf of the European Commission." *

    * Large file:

  5. Thank you, Clarence. I shall put that up on the blog.