FCDO admits ‘some roles may change’ because of merger

MPs are told department will await the outcome of a wider review before deciding on new nationality requirements
Johnny Green/PA Archive/PA Images

By Jim Dunton

28 Sep 2020

Ministers have accepted that the nature of a proportion of jobs in the newly-created Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office could alter from the form they took in the FCDO’s predecessor departments.

The admission came in the formal response to a Foreign Affairs Select Committee report on the merger of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development, which took place earlier this month.

MPs sought assurances from the government that a “clear plan” would be presented to staff detailing how their roles would change as a result of the merger in July. Earlier this month, CSW reported that around 160 DfID staff who did not meet the former FCO’s nationality requirements were effectively in limbo.

In its response to MPs on Thursday, the government said it did not expect compulsory redundancies to result from the merger but indicated that there was no guarantee jobs would be unaffected. 

“Some roles in the FCDO may change due to business needs and any changes will be handled in accordance with relevant civil service policy and legal guidance,” it said. 

“We are aware a small number of former DfID staff would not have met the former FCO’s existing nationality requirements. It has been agreed that these staff will transfer into the new FCDO in their current roles.”

The response added: “In the longer term, decisions will be taken on nationality requirements for the new organisation, also reflecting any changes as a result of the ongoing review of the Civil Service Nationality Rules.”

Staff affected by the nationality requirements are likely to be non-UK European Union nationals or people of other nationalities who met the general civil service nationality requirements when they were hired. The stricter FCO rules required staff to be British nationals, and – in the case of new applicants – to have lived in the UK for at least two out of the previous 10 years.

Members of the Foreign Affairs Committee also sought assurances from the government on the alignment of pay and conditions for staff working in the new department, and called for the retention of DfID staff with “valuable technical and programming expertise” to be prioritised.

The response acknowledged that DfID had “amassed world class expertise” that was “rightly a source of national pride” and said FCDO had launched a comprehensive programme of staff engagement setting out the value that their skills would have in the new department.

“In support of this we will continue to invest in specific learning and development opportunities to expand and enhance the skills of current and future FCDO officers,” it said.

“We will take this as an opportunity to consider what we can learn from others to ensure the FCDO has an appropriate package to enable us to attract and retain the skills and experience required by the new department.”

The government response said that work had already begun on aligning the different terms and conditions of service that applied to DfID and FCO staff, but suggested it would not be a rapid process.

“It is too early to be able to say precisely when all contracts will be harmonised. As some of the changes will have financial implications, it is expected to be after the next Spending Review.”

In their report, members of the Foreign Affairs Committee had called for a Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee pre-appointment hearing to assess the preferred candidate to succeed Sir Simon McDonald as FCO permanent undersecretary.

However McDonald’s successor – Sir Philip Barton – was appointed at the beginning of August, just over a week after MPs made their request.

The government said a “comprehensive selection criteria” that reflected the skills sought by the committee had been used to recruit Barton. It went on to reject the idea that a PACAC pre-appointment hearing was appropriate for a permanent secretary.

“This role, and equivalent roles, are not included in the scope of pre-appointment scrutiny by House of Commons select committees,” it said.

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