A TOP Scottish international development executive has branded the Foreign Office’s London premises as “appalling”, in the wake of a new report which branded the department “elitist”.

The report by leading diplomats suggested a range of measures to update the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), including rebranding, changing its name and modernising the premises.

The paper – The World in 2040: Renewing the UK’s Approach to International Affairs – from UCL Policy Lab and Hertford College, Oxford, sees leading figures from British diplomacy and international development call for a renewed vision of UK foreign affairs.

It described the department’s official title – Foreign, Commonwealth (formerly “Colonial”) and Development Office (FCDO) – as “anchored in the past” and Foreign Office buildings that feature portraits of colonial leaders as “somewhat elitist and rooted in the past”.

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Frances Guy, chief executive of Scotland’s International Development Alliance, hailed the paper, saying that it contained some “really interesting calls” which should be addressed.

She said: “There are some really interesting calls in this paper, including that we should place our historical legacy head on and that we should practice domestically what we preach internationally. I think we would welcome both of those things.”

“It is appalling. If you’re an ambassador going to present your credentials for the first time to the Foreign Secretary, you are confronted by a picture of ‘white Britannia’ – it’s inappropriate.

“It is part of history, but it shouldn’t be what ambassadors see when they come to present their credentials.

“The point they’re making [in this report] though, is that we need to move on from the historical baggage. That's an important point. And those symbols should be relegated to some museum part of [the building].”

She highlighted the fact that French has a similar colonial history to Britain, but their equivalent to the FCDO is simply called “affaires étrangères” (foreign affairs).

“I think in this period of celebrating the ‘Entente Cordiale’, maybe we should take our direction from the French and just call ourselves ‘External Affairs’ too,” she added.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) was merged with the Department for International Development (DFID) in 2020, with the aim of streamlining UK international efforts and creating a more coherent foreign policy landscape.

However, Guy highlighted the country’s current position on Gaza as contradictory to this goal, with the UK supplying both aid to Palestinians and weapons to Israel.

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A recent report from the National Audit Office from March 25 found that, more than three years on from the merger, “there is still work to do to resolve remaining issues and ensure these basics are delivered” and that “it will also take time for wider cultural change and new ways of working to settle and become fully embedded”.

It also concluded that there is “insufficient evidence” the merger has demonstrated value for money.

Responding to the new report, SNP MP Chris Law (below) – who is the party’s international engagement ambassador and a member of the International Development Select Committee – said the Foreign Office is “steeped in the past and blind to the world”.

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He said: “Little or no thought has ever been put into the impact of Brexit, the merger of DFID and the Foreign Office and the Foreign Office’s role in the world.

“In many ways it’s like the anachronistic Westminster Parliament, steeped in the past and blind to the future.

“Why else would the UK Government want to limit the international engagement of the Scottish Government that is looking towards a future as an independent country and at the centre of the EU and the rest of the world.”

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It comes after it was announced in December 2023 that the FCDO would be moved from its location in East Kilbride – where 1000 staff were based – to a location in central Glasgow, which East Kilbride MSP Collette Stevenson described as a “hammer blow” to the local economy.

The UK Government pledged in 2021 to move an additional 500 Foreign Office jobs to Scotland by 2025, but those jobs have not yet materialised.

Peter Taylor, director of research at the Institute of Development Studies – one of the UK’s leading international development research and higher education bodies – said the merger has had a “detrimental impact” on the UK’s reputation, as well as on retaining qualified staff.

He said: “Since the merger of DFID and the FCO, there has been a significant detrimental impact on the UK’s reputation for excellence in international development, the retention of staff with development expertise, and on the all-important trust required for effective global partnerships.

“One area that has benefitted from the merger was integrating development and diplomacy; with some evidence that this has worked locally and in particular country contexts.

“However, ahead of a general election, I would agree that it is critical to have a fresh look at how to achieve a fit-for-purpose, learning-oriented, respectful and adaptive international-facing government department.

“A priority must be to broaden the understandings of development beyond the narrow and limited view across much of what was FCO, and still lingers now in the current FCDO.

“Only then will it be possible to set out a new and ambitious path for the UK’s contribution to international development.”

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However, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (below) has rejected the idea that the Foreign Office is “elitist” and should remove colonial-era paintings, according to Downing Street.

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The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “I don’t think he would agree with that assessment at all.

"The Foreign Office is doing vital work to protect and promote UK interests abroad and he fully supports the work of the Foreign Office and indeed the Foreign Secretary in achieving those objectives.”

Asked whether the Prime Minister thought the Foreign Office should remove colonial-era artwork, the spokesman said: “No, we’ve previously talked about being proud of the UK’s history and looking forward, the Foreign Office is at the forefront of efforts to promote UK interests at home and abroad.”

An FCDO spokesperson said: “We are maximising the benefits of merging diplomacy and development in the FCDO to better deal with global challenges, as seen in our responses to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and in the Middle East.

“We are committed to having an even greater impact and influence on the world stage, which is why we recently completed a review across the department to ensure we are effectively directing our funds, streamlining all our international policy work and building our capability for the future.”