10 July 2010

British PM talks tough to Ambassadors

Over 200 British Ambassadors attended a meeting this week in London and were addressed by the British Prime Minister in a tough manner.
Quote from the Independent Newspaper:

Mr Cameron, sitting beside Nick Clegg, said: "I want you to ask yourself every day: 'What am I doing to promote British business?' If you want to keep Britain's great ambassadorial residences, then I want you to show me that every day you are using them relentlessly to open new trade links and to generate new business for Britain."
See: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/do-our-ambassadors-spoil-themselves-2021228.html

We all know that the British PM is trying to maintain confidence with the 'business community', so sorting out the Ambassadors is just a display of him trying to get tough no doubt. But is he right? Are British Ambassadors the right people to generate new business for the United Kingdom?

Probably not in my opinion. All British expats, in whichever country they live, tend to be critical of the British Ambassador and his team. Usual comments range from "What do they do all day?" through to "They are all useless public servants" et al.

To be fair, most things that have a 'British' tag to them, still tend to have respect from most countries and the opinion and the image sent out by British Embassies is still very important in the host country. After all British Ambassadors are trained to be diplomats and are still the best in the world and most maintain and project an image that make British people proud.

However, 'Business, Trade, Investment' should perhaps be looked at in a different way. Most Embassies have a first secretary or Trade Delegate who is responsible for trade and promoting business opportunities for UK companies in the host country and also for investment within the UK. Many of these first secretaries are 'normal' civil service type people with very little understanding of the business world and have probably never worked in the private sector. But I am sure most of them try their best.

Perhaps it is time for a major change to the type of people involved in promoting trade and investment within British Embassies? Many people have suggested that only people with previous experience in the private sector and with genuine business experience should be given the task of representing British business interests.

There are many British business people who would jump at the chance to represent the UK in another country and would accept the generous salary and perks already provided to civil servants from the FCO. The down side maybe is that these people would not be diplomats. But winning business for the UK would in my opinion be far more important than playing at diplomacy. The Ambassador can concentrate on being the senior diplomat.

Would this work? Perhaps the British FCO and indeed the new Foreign Secretaary William Hague could consider a few 'pilot projects' in a few countries where bringing in people with real business experience could be tested for say one year.

Let's face it, the United Kingdom needs all the help is can get right now and now is the time to focus on helping those people who are responsible for 'bringing home the bacon'.

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