Our civil service is being used to mop up the image of dubious foreign governments. Aren't there better things to spend Whitehall cash on?
Despite ordinary civil servants having faced huge cuts and pay freezes since 2010, one part of the civil service is booming – providing PR advice to dubious foreign governments.
A secretive new Cabinet Office team is sending communications experts – spin-doctors – to foreign regimes in a bid to improve their image.
The roles don’t appear to be advertised on any recruitment website, or the government’s own website – including the Government Communication Service, where the roles sit.
12 new positions will expand the team for “consultancy services” in areas including “crisis communications” and establishing “political clarity” – for clients include Jordan, Tunisia, Ukraine and Afghanistan, according to reports in the Times. All these countries extremely worrying records when it comes to human rights.
Introductory meetings have taken place with the governments of Egypt and Algeria, according to the Times, for a unit that has a £2 million – and potentially rising – budget.
Labour and Amnesty UK have both challenged the government over the issue – one which has received almost zero attention.
Jon Trickett, the shadow cabinet office minister, said:
“This is astonishing and frankly reprehensible. The Civil Service is there to serve the UK taxpayer and not foreign governments and regimes, some of which are not the most attractive. At a time of austerity and with the pressures of Brexit it needs to stop.”
A spokesperson for Jon Trickett’s office told Left Foot Forward Labour were investigating the scandal.
Human rights groups have also condemned the worrying foray into providing communications help for states which violate human rights.
Kerry Moscogiuri, Amnesty UK’s director of campaigns, said:
“It’s concerning to learn that a civil service unit is providing consultancy services to governments around the world which routinely restrict freedom of expression.
“We would like to see increased transparency over the services that are being offered and the governments that are being supported.
Ms Moscogiuri added:
“The UK Government needs to provide clear and verifiable undertakings that no services will be offered which could assist foreign governments in possibly spinning their way out of accountability for human rights violations.
“We would much prefer the UK Government to focus on helping countries improve their record on human rights – rather than to improve their communications strategy.”
The Cabinet Office reportedly insisted that the unit had taken no money from foreign governments and is funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office – yet providing PR services to authoritarian states for free is little better than doing it for money. In fact, surely it equates to British taxpayers subsidising these anti-humanitarian states?
Josiah Mortimer is Editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.