The British Council strengthens Britain around the world, helping make us a soft-power superpower. If UK government forces the closure of its offices in up to 20 countries it will be the very definition of a false economy.
I made this clear to the Minister at the Despatch Box:
Stephen Kinnock: I would first like to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) for his tireless work as chair of the APPG. Secondly, I declare an interest: I worked for the British Council from 1996 until 2008, during which time I was posted to Brussels, St Petersburg and Sierra Leone.
The council’s core purpose is to build long-term, trust-based relationships between the UK and other countries—and my goodness, it delivers. From its global network of world-leading English language teaching centres, to its outstanding arts and culture programmes, its work on democracy and good governance, its education reform and media freedom projects, and its scientific exchange and promotion of the UK’s higher education sector, the British Council provides us with an object lesson in how to win friends and influence people.
The council also provides excellent value for money for the British taxpayer, with the success of its commercial operations gradually reducing reliance on Government financing, but those operations have of course been hit hard by the pandemic, meaning that the council requires UK Government support to weather the storm. It is therefore deeply disappointing that the Government are refusing to make good the shortfall, which in turn is forcing the council to look at closing down offices in up to 20 countries. The Government’s position represents the very definition of a false economy. It is short-sighted and would inflict profound damage on Britain’s status as a soft power superpower.
On the eve of the G7 summit, I urge the Minister to think again. Will he please tell me how he intends to support the British Council to fulfil its integral role in making Britain a force for good in the world—an ambition set by the Government in their integrated review? Does he understand fears that the Government’s abandonment of their 0.7% manifesto commitment on foreign aid, combined with their ambivalence towards the council, sends a signal that Britain is withdrawing from the world stage, rather than offering leadership? Will he therefore return to this House before the summer recess with a plan that secures the British Council’s entire global network?
Nigel Adams: May I praise the hon. Gentleman for the work he has done with the British Council— 12 years is a very long stint working for a fantastic organisation—but also prod him gently for talking about our “ambivalence” towards the British Council? I politely remind him that we will be providing £149 million in grant in aid this year and £189 million in grant in aid next year. That is an increase of 26%. We have provided the British Council with a £145 million covid loan and Toggle showing location ofColumn 835are providing a £100 million loan to help it to restructure. In March 2020, we provided £26 million. Madam Deputy Speaker, £609 million of British taxpayers’ money since the pandemic hit does not sound like ambivalence to me. The hon. Gentleman is right: the integrated review made it clear that we value the influence of the council—of course we do—and we will continue to support the British Council in playing its leading role in enhancing the UK’s soft power throughout its work overseas.