As he retires after six years as a Permanent Secretary, first at BIS and since August 2010 at the FCO, Sir Simon Fraser reflected on the FCO’s response to austerity and the need for reform, its relationship with wider Whitehall, and his efforts to develop a more diverse workforce and inclusive Departmental culture. The FCO and austerity Fraser began by talking about his time as Permanent Secretary at BIS in 2009, before the drive for austerity had kicked in. He acknowledged that the pre-austerity public sector – with its “away days” and some “excessive” senior salaries – was ripe for reform and he saw many benefits from the austerity-driven changes. Fraser talked about the changes to the FCO: it has opened fifteen new embassies and reduced its running costs by 20 per cent, against a backdrop of a 10 per cent budget cut since 2010. Although Sir Simon supported the protection of UK aid spending and the two per cent commitment to defence spending, he lamented that the FCO’s relatively small budget was unprotected in the coming Spending Review. As “the glue that holds everything together” in co-ordinating the UK’s policies abroad, Sir Simon said it arguably deserved similar protection […]

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