Skip to main content

New Strategic Framework

Volume 470: debated on Wednesday 23 January 2008

Since taking office in June, my ministerial team has been working with Foreign and Commonwealth Office staff, other Whitehall Departments and other stakeholders to bring a sharper and more strategic focus to the work of the FCO. I should like to inform the House of the outcome.

We considered the wider context in which the FCO, and the UK, are now operating: the changes driven by globalisation; the interdependence of foreign and domestic policy; the growing diversity of international actors; and hence the need for a modern Foreign Ministry to be constantly reassessing where and how it can make the most valuable contribution.

Based on this assessment, I have approved a new Strategic Framework to guide the work of the FCO in future. This has three elements, reflecting the three main roles of the FCO:

i) Providing a flexible global network serving the Government as a whole.

In addition to delivering our new policy goals and essential services, our posts abroad will continue to support the rest of Whitehall in delivering Home Departments’ own international priorities.

ii) Delivering essential services to the British public and business:

Our worldwide consular operation which provides assistance to UK citizens living, working or travelling abroad; UK Trade and Investment, which works to help UK businesses and exporters and attract inward investment to the UK; and our worldwide visa operation, currently carried out by UKvisas, which will be incorporated into the new UK Border Agency later this year.

iii) Shaping and delivering HMG’s foreign policy.

We have identified four new policy priorities on which the FCO will focus, on which I briefed the House on 8 January: countering terrorism and proliferation; reducing and preventing conflict; promoting a low carbon, high growth global economy; and developing effective international institutions, especially the UN and EU.

I intend to put more of the FCO’s overall resources into these new priorities: a closer alignment of resources and priorities will enable the FCO to deliver better for Britain and HMG.

So we will be increasing substantially the overall level of resources the FCO puts into counter-terrorism and counter-proliferation; climate change; Afghanistan and other conflict regions; and key international institutions. All these areas will receive additional staff and money.

We have also decided that we should adapt the FCO’s overseas network of posts to align it more closely with our own priorities and those of HMG as a whole. So we will be shifting a proportion of our diplomatic staff from Europe and the Americas to Asia, the Middle East and other parts of the world, while continuing to sustain our global flexibility and reach.

As I told the House on 8 January, we will continue to manage the FCO’s overseas network to reflect changing demands and challenges. We will ensure that our resources are aligned with our priorities and that the UK has a cost-effective and flexible network of overseas representation around the world.

In order to put more resources into these new priority areas and to sharpen our strategic focus, it is necessary to reduce the resources the FCO puts into certain other issues, notably where other Whitehall Departments in London are better placed to direct HMG’s international priorities, in particular in the areas of sustainable development, science and innovation, and crime and drugs.

Our ambassadors will however remain heavily engaged on all these issues in those countries where they are of particular importance to Britain: for example, the fight against drugs in Colombia and against crime in Jamaica. Our posts overseas will continue to operate as a base for all Whitehall Departments on which they can put their own staff and resources to deliver their own priorities in the countries concerned. Our ambassadors will continue to offer advice to Departments and their local representatives, and act locally on their behalf wherever needed.

This new Strategic Framework will replace the FCO’s ten existing Strategic Priorities. This is in line with the view expressed by the Foreign Affairs Committee in their response to our 2006-07 departmental White Paper that “ten strategic priorities is too many” and that they should be “simplified and reduced in number”. We will be taking forward the detailed planning and implementation over the next few months, inside the FCO and with other Government Departments.

I believe that every organisation, including every Government Department, should regularly reassess its own aims and priorities. Successful organisations stay focused on the biggest issues on which they can make the biggest difference, and they regularly readjust that focus as circumstances and priorities change. That is what we have sought to do for the FCO through this new Strategic Framework.