Letter: British Council acts as conduit

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British Council

acts as conduit

Sir: Your leader on cultural diplomacy (21 May) proposed that the , or "some new organisation" should be strengthened in its role as cultural ambassador, with the definition of culture being as broadly defined as possible. The problem is that the path down which the is being directed is taking it steadily in the opposite direction.

The Government has concluded that the council should exploit the commercial potential presented by its worldwide network of offices. The council competes with the likes of Save the Children Fund to run health contracts, with major accounting firms to run management training courses, with universities and companies like this one to manage education contracts. In doing so it inevitably and increasingly undermines its capacity to act as disinterested and imaginative promoter of those with whom it competes.

You are right to say that there are no reliable cost-benefit equations in cultural diplomacy. But the value of the council's services can and should be subjected to performance measures. Of course, with the unmatchable advantages of over 100 publicly subsidised offices round the world the generates income for itself and for Britain. But the council's explicit belief that the best way of maximising such income for this country is by means of a state-funded bureaucracy acting as the conduit through which all good things flow remains an entirely untested proposition.

The is immensely well known around the world and it may well be that it provides the right corporate identity within which your positive vision for the promotion of British culture can be developed. Your proposal for a thorough review of how we make the most of our immense cultural capital is an essential prerequisite.

Incremental cuts leading to further commercialisation simply undermine what is best about the council without encouraging thorough reappraisal of its role and future.

NEIL MCINTOSH

Chief Executive

CFBT Education Services

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