Cultural ambassadors face curb on global crusade

Budget cuts are threatening the work of the British Council,

It promotes British culture around the world - teaching English to Brazilians, performing Shakespeare for Egyptians, playing cricket with Turks and showing Mike Leigh films to Greek Cypriots.

But while the British Council's worth is not in dispute, its already stretched funding is under renewed threat from Government spending cuts.

Sir John Hanson, the Council's director, has been told to expect a 16 per cent reduction in its grant. He has threatened to scale down activities in nearly 20 countries and pull out of 14 altogether if the situation worsens.

"We're not bluffing," he said. "The Government is threatening huge damage, at a time when there is massive worldwide interest in Britain. To be stuffing that down the drain seems short-sighted in the extreme."

Not only has the Council's grant - currently standing at pounds 131.9m - not kept pace with inflation, but it also had to cover a massive redundancy programme imposed by the Government.

"I think the figure of 16 per cent was plucked out of the air," said Sir John. "They had given no thought to the consequences, which we have had to spell out for them. We have a huge profile abroad, but a very small one in Britain, which makes us politically easy to ignore."

Indeed, abroad, its activities are less easy to ignore. Harbouring thousands of students working for British qualifications, the Council in Thessaloniki operates like a further education college. The Cairo office exudes imperial grandeur, but its library is crammed with locals consulting English exam syllabuses.

After local elections last year put the Islamic Welfare Party in power, Istanbul was in a state of shock. Our scholarly young cultural attache spent a lot of time taking the pulse on the streets; his arts programme was tailored to reflect what European and Asian culture had in common.

In Cyprus, the British Council's offices literally bestride the Green Line separating the warring groups. It exerts a key influence. At its quirkiest, this means bringing Mike Leigh's Naked to a film festival on the Greek side, and providing bats, balls, and cricket stumps for Anglophile Turks.At its most serious, it means a unique attempt to bridge the political gap, by sending student high-flyers from the Greek and Turkish communities to study together in Britain.

The cultural embassies of America, Germany, and France are all competing for the loyalty of this strife-torn island, but none with such a constructive approach.

In Recife, Brazil, last week, there was a whiff of what cuts mean in practice. David Spiller, the British Council's director for north-east Brazil, had just completed his responses to last year's round of cuts. With nine full-timers serving an area as big as Europe, no one could argue there was any fat to lose. But jobs had been lost, and so had the entire arts budget.

But the guts of this enterprise are, for the time being, intact. In this part of tropical Brazil, disease and malnutrition are rife: the British Council stands in the front line against them. One of 40 projects run by Spiller's staff has seen the incidence of elephantiasis dramatically decline, thanks to a simple technological wheeze devised in London.

Another project which they have initiated - and beefed up with World Bank funds - is an assault on rural nutritional ignorance. The Council may have little to spend on work like this, but it is inducing universities, companies, state governments to spend a great deal.

Early in the morning, and late in the evening, the office is thronged with people learning English in their spare time. English teaching is Spiller's best hope of staying solvent: his office now takes a commission for every student it places in British language schools.

"We don't like being forced into being entrepreneurs, but the Government has left no other option," he said.

Eddie Edmondson, Spiller's chief English teacher, is one of the most sought-after examiners in Brazil. He's had numerous offers to could get seriously rich in the private sector, but has never felt the urge. "I like working for the British Council, and I believe in what it stands for."

So, very obviously, does everyone else in this hard-pressed office, which costs the British taxpayer a mere pounds 850,000 a year. If this week's news is bad, Spiller has already worked out where his axe must swing next.

But why should it be bad? The Council's current grant amounts to 0.04 per cent of Government expenditure. With Germany investing four times as much in its overseas cultural push, and France even more, ours seems a snip.

Leading article, page 13

Arts and Entertainment
Just folk: The Unthanks

music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne with his Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actor

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rowan Atkinson is bringing out Mr Bean for Comic Relief

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project