Sir Bob visited the UK Embassy in Sweden with Matthew Rycroft last week to learn about the work that UK Embassies do:
This was my first visit to an Embassy and I learnt an enormous amount in the two days I spent in Stockholm with Matthew Rycroft, Chief Operating Officer at the FCO and Paul Johnston, HM Ambassador to Sweden. It came on the back of a very busy first week back in the office, with the ministerial reshuffle and some late night negotiations on housing and planning for the growth announcement, but it was well worth it.
The team over in Stockholm (both UK based and locally engaged staff) are highly engaged, open and innovative, and are leading the way for Embassies across the world in many respects. They are trialling a new way of working across the region on shared services and policy. And the rest of Whitehall has much to learn from the way they use video conferencing as part of everyday working.
The huge importance of Embassies in supporting the UK’s interests around the world, whether generating growth through enabling business to win contracts, supporting valuable tourism, helping UK citizens in vulnerable situations, or influencing and shaping policy to align with UK interests came across very powerfully during the visit. The question it posed for me was whether we in the rest of the Civil Service make the most of this valuable resource – do those of us designing policies use our colleagues in Embassies to understand what we can learn from other countries? The potential for ideas exchange with Embassies feels quite an untapped resource.
In a similar vein, and relating to the Civil Service Reform Plan, we must open up our policy making further afield than just the ‘usual suspects’ and seek input from our international counterparts. We have a lot to learn from Sweden when it comes to issues such as sustainable development, equality and digitalisation of commerce.
Finally, in all of my discussions with staff it was clear that although the role and work of staff in the FCO, Embassies and other posts can sometimes be quite different from the rest of the Civil Service, the issues for them are the same. Wanting to feel empowered in their jobs, wanting to know that good performance would be rewarded and poor performance tackled effectively, needing to be provided with the right skills and training to do their jobs properly. So it is particularly good that Simon Fraser (Permanent Secretary at FCO) and Matthew are actively engaging on the Civil Service Reform Plan. I am confident that the actions set out in the plan will address these issues for staff, but they will only drive sustained and lasting change if we all feel a sense of ownership for delivering them.
My huge thanks to all those involved in organising and contributing to the visit – you have a new champion for the work of Embassies in me, and I look forward to my next visit.