Exclusive: Staff cuts loom at FCDO, union claims

The U.K. Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office in London. Photo by: Dominic Lipinski / REUTERS

LONDON — Hundreds of staff members in the United Kingdom’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office are in a “precarious” situation as the specter of personnel cuts looms over the newly formed department, according to a union representing civil servants.

A document on FCDO written by the Public and Commercial Services Union and obtained by Devex says staff cuts “expected to be in the range of 20%” will hit director-level posts in early November. “It is not known or it has not been disclose to PCS if this will be replicated across the organisation,” the document states.

Ministers have insisted there will be no compulsory redundancies as a result of the merger between the Department for International Development and Foreign & Commonwealth Office in September, but PCS says that hundreds of staff members on fixed-term contracts are at risk of losing their positions once those contracts end, despite earlier promises of permanent opportunities.

Non-U.K. nationals who transferred from DFID are also facing an uncertain future.

The briefing paints a picture of a confused and disorganized FCDO. “We are now over a month into the existence of the FCDO, yet the future of the organisation in terms of size, shape, structure is still very unclear,” it states.

Shortly before the department opened, Devex revealed that non-U.K. DFID staff members had been told they may not be able to change jobs once they transferred to the new department due to differing nationality requirements between DFID and FCO.

According to the PCS report, the issue affects 155 former DFID staff members who have been left in a “precarious position.”

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is understood to be considering a “hybrid approach” for FCDO — allowing most posts to be held by European Union and Commonwealth nationals but maintaining some roles for U.K. nationals alone.

“We are now over a month into the existence of the FCDO, yet the future of the organisation in terms of size, shape, structure is still very unclear.”

— A document written by the Public and Commercial Services Union

“If the hybrid approach proposed is not agreed, then it’s likely that each vacant post will have to go through a process of determining whether non-U.K. nationals can apply, which will impose heavy restrictions on them being able to move jobs and apply for promotion,” a PCS spokesman told Devex.

The document also said that up to 359 former FCO staff members are on temporary fixed-term contracts and have missed out on more secure employment because of the merger. Of these, 70% are under the age of 30, 57.6% are women, and nearly a third are Black, Asian, or minority ethnic, or BAME.

These staff members were told in March they would be able to apply for more secure employment, but after the merger was announced in June, “the opportunity of permanent jobs was completely pulled with FTCs [those on fixed-term contracts] advised to compete for a limited number of fixed-term jobs with results announced shortly before their contracts end,” according to PCS.

FCDO “refused to equality impact their decision,” according to the report, referring to a process designed to ensure that a policy does not discriminate against people with a characteristic protected under equality law, such as race, gender, or religion.

Exclusive: Non-UK DFID staff face uncertain future

Non-UK staff have been told they can remain in their current jobs after the DFID merger next month, but may not be able to move to new ones.

“This is no doubt a diverse group of staff, with protected characteristics, who have served the former FCO well over several Brexit crises and the response to COVID-19, who have been treated poorly due to [the] creation of the FCDO and desire to reduce staffing numbers,” it continues.

PCS also emphasized concerns about the lack of bonuses going to BAME and disabled staff members from the former FCO, as this group received a lower share of the necessary performance marks. “This is despite a huge effort from all staff in the last year, and public commitments to ‘Black Lives Matter’ from the Permanent Under Secretary,” the report notes.

The report also highlights the likelihood of imminent bad news for the British Council, a nondepartmental public body sponsored by FCDO.

It says: “There is the likelihood of huge budget cuts and redundancies. British Council staff have had their pay review for 2020 suspended [and] the Foreign Secretary has ignored two letters from PCS which has requested for funds to be released for pay talks with the union.”

FCDO did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

About the author

  • William Worley

    William Worley is the U.K. Correspondent for Devex, covering DFID and British aid. Previously, he reported on international affairs, policy, and development. He also worked as a reporter for the U.K. national press, including the Times, Guardian, Independent, and i Paper. His reportage has included work on the Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh, drought in Madagascar, the "migrant caravan" in Mexico, and Colombia’s peace process. He can be reached at william.worley@devex.com.