Diplomats are set to be offered special commuter packages enabling them to fly home every weekend so that they can spend time with their families in Britain.
A small number of diplomatic officers are taking part in a 12-month pilot of the new perk, which began this month. The approach will mean that diplomats will be able to take up jobs overseas without having to relocate their families, but the practicalities of commuting to and from Britain mean that the scheme will not be a realistic option for long-haul destinations.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials insist the new benefit will be cost neutral and could even save the Whitehall department money because it will not have to pay the costs of relocating and housing an entire family.
Referring to the new scheme, Catherine Arnold, Britain’s Ambassador to Mongolia, told delegates at Civil Service Live earlier this month: “We’re just piloting the concept of commuter posts, particularly in Europe, for people who have a partner who has a fantastic job somewhere in the UK, doesn’t want to uproot themselves, wants to continue their career.”
She added: “We are funding more frequent air travel back to the UK by saying to the officer: ‘You will not get the level of accommodation that we would all expect to have, you’ll have something much smaller, much simpler, much cheaper but with what we’ve saved on that you can go home more often which will enable your partner to continue their career.’”
This comes after a review last year, commissioned by permanent secretary Sir Simon McDonald, recommended more flexible working and said: “In order to generate a diverse pipeline of next generation ambassadors and senior diplomats, the FCO should ensure that 21st century lifestyle/family considerations are catered for.”
The new commuter roles being piloted are part of a wider approach by the FCO to helping improve work/life balance. This includes proactive consideration given to job share roles – including having couples share the job of being an ambassador.
Arnold said: “My colleagues in other countries are always very jealous of the fact that we even have job share ambassadors around the world.”
She added: “The Foreign Office has been very good at listening to feedback to say: ‘How can we make what we’re offering something genuinely 21st century and not something that’s the same as [what] we were doing 150 years ago?”