Inside File: Faded Britannia ponders cuts in spending on UN

PREDATORS in the Treasury are contemplating what can be trimmed from Britain's international commitments to save money. There is a split - right down the middle, some Whitehall sources say - among Treasury officials over whether to continue to bear costs such as permanent membership of the UN Security Council and international peace-keeping.

What the ministers think about this is not yet clear. They are in two camps about most things anyway - Kenneth Clarke and his advisers on the one hand and what Whitehall insiders nickname 'Dorrillo' - Michael Portillo and Stephen Dorrell, the Financial Secretary - on the other.

But that the Chancellor does worry about UN expenditure is beyond doubt. As previously described in this column, Britain last year lost its seat on the only UN body affording it a direct say in the UN budget: the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions. It did so despite intensive lobbying by the British candidate. The Swedes, who stood against the British and beat them, were even asked to drop out of the race. A Swedish diplomat discussing the matter with British colleagues at the time was told: 'The Chancellor feels it is absolutely crucial that we retain our seat on this particular committee.'

The loss of the seat is likely to inspire even less Treasury confidence in expenditure which some of them regarded as unnecessary in the first place. The budget scrutinised by the ACABQ includes peace-keeping ventures, which cost dollars 3bn (pounds 2bn) last year and are certain to expand further. As a permanent member of the Security Council, Britain has a duty to bear a higher proportion of that cost than other member-states.

Douglas Hurd has impressed his staff with how he has fought to defend his budget in expenditure rounds so far. But they expect a further onslaught from the Treasury next time. At stake is not just Britain's Security Council seat but, by extension, its rightful place among other international heavyweights such as the Group of Seven. It is the legacy of having once been a global power that allows it to fight above its weight.

British diplomats know that any Chancellor with aspirations to Number Ten, faced with a choice of domestic growth and international influence, would be tempted to choose the former. They know that many Conservative MPs regard them as spoilt and snooty people working against British interests, whose one redeeming role is promoting British exports. But, as one senior diplomat said: 'If any Chancellor considers what it would feel like to read in the newspapers about the G6, rather than attending himself the summits of the G7, he might think twice about it.'

As part of its efforts to streamline operations, the Foreign Office is trying to drag itself into the age of modern technology this year. Insiders say computerisation of correspondence to and within King Charles Street has been on the books 'forever'. It is now hoped it will be in place by the end of 1994.

One of the key considerations is how to ensure that the same procedure is followed throughout the Office to ensure that, in addition to incoming telegrams - some of which can under the current system take up to two weeks to reach the relevant departments - even the briefest memos, notes and minutes passed between officials are kept on file.

As one diplomat said: 'Should there ever be another Scott inquiry, you would need to know that even original drafts that have been amended can be found, and even notes like 'I agree with much of what you say but have made a few amendments' are recorded.' Are computer files easier or harder to tamper with than the current paper dossiers? Most diplomats seem to feel there is nothing in it.

Under the computer system, distribution of telegrams will no longer be limited to a list of relevant departments. 'Everybody will be able to access things not immediately in their area, and as a result we'll be a better-informed service,' said one enthusiast. Everybody from the Permanent Secretary downwards is to learn to use the computers. It remains to be seen to what extent senior mandarins master them, or expect staff to print out documents for them; or whether the Foreign Secretary himself intends to take time out to learn.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected