The British Council, the cultural arm of the British government and a key instrument of British soft power, will close 20 offices around the world as part of a restructuring program necessitated by cuts in the aid budget and the shortfall in to win.
The British Council confirmed that “due to the impact of Covid on our business income, which we previously used to subsidize our overseas offices, and an overall decrease in our funding compared to before Covid, we we are faced with a significant funding gap ”. He added that as a result, he “will have to consider delivering our work to 20 countries remotely or digitally.”
The institution’s vital income from English language education and exams plunged during the pandemic, as the virus forced countries to lock down and restrict in-person events.
The British organization is the equivalent of the Alliance Française in France, the Goethe-Institut in Germany, the Instituto Cervantes in Spain and the Confucius Institute in China.
Nigel Adams, the minister for Asia, who is also responsible for soft power, explained some of the cuts to MPs on Wednesday. He said: “Some have said that the British Council can only have a significant impact with an office in the country. This is, frankly, incorrect. It would be a strategic error to judge the impact of the British Council in a digital world by its physical presence. “
The board is considering laying off 20% of its staff and the Foreign Office has asked it to come up with a five-year spending program that will result in an overall spending cut of £ 185million.
The closures cover the world, from Belgium to the United States and from Australia to South Sudan. They include all of the Five Eyes countries. In other countries, the cuts mean there will be no local staff and all operations will be conducted remotely.
Education revenues until July had only returned to about 50% of pre-pandemic levels, representing a loss of hundreds of millions of pounds over the year. It is expected that revenues from business operations will not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2023.
The deficit was initially filled with an additional unofficial development assistance grant of £ 26million, but this was, according to MEPs, offset by a reduction in ODA grant funds of £ 18million sterling. The government is cutting aid spending from 0.7% to 0.5% of gross national income, a move that was approved by Conservative MPs in the House of Commons despite a big rebellion.
Lord Ricketts, a former UK national security adviser, said: “I find this completely perverse. The UK wants to be a soft power superpower. Any other nation with this ambition, and having the attractive power of our cultural sector and our language, and an instrument to deliver it as well as the British Council, would invest money in it. “
Wendy Chamberlain, the Liberal Democrat MP for North East Fife, told MPs on Wednesday that the council, in return for loans worth £ 245million, had to agree to a spending cut of more than £ 185million sterling over the next five years, and was already looking to lay off 20% of its staff in the UK and globally. “It’s literally giving with one hand and withdrawing with the other,” she said.
Adams defended the decisions, saying: “The unprecedented impact of the pandemic has forced the government to make difficult but necessary decisions regarding the British Council’s global presence. “