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Press Release – Britain’s Global Future

12th July 2017

  • ResPublica


Strict embargo: 00:01 12th July 2017

Britain’s overseas aid budget should be spent in a ‘‘smarter’’ way, allowing the UK to consolidate its international influence while advancing progress towards global humanitarian goals as it embarks on the process of Brexit, argues think tank ResPublica in a new report.

British institutions active overseas, such as universities, museums, the British Council and the BBC should receive the funding they need to promote long-term stability, encourage institutional transparency, and widen access to learning through their work in crisis-hit areas across the world. This will deliver economic and humanitarian benefits to the citizens of those countries by allowing the UK to do more to build civil society and expand higher education globally, but will also help to secure Britain’s standing and authority on the world stage at a crucial juncture.

In Britain’s Global Future: Harnessing the soft power capital of UK institutions, ResPublica says that civil society is a vital enabler of social and cultural prosperity. The report argues the work of the UK’s civil society institutions around the world benefits other nations directly, but also contributes to Britain’s “soft power”: the influence Britain can exert in international diplomacy and global efforts to tackle shared international challenges as a result of how it is perceived worldwide.

The report argues military intervention and humanitarian aid on their own are not enough to help struggling areas, and notes that previous military or economic-led “hard power” initiatives – such as Britain’s support for the United States’ interventions in the Middle East in the early 2000s – have in fact harmed the global view of Britain. Institution-led soft power approaches to international relations by contrast carry a smaller financial, ethical and reputational burden.

The report therefore argues that UK aid spending on strengthening civil society and promoting access to education abroad should increase from its current level of £1.7 billion to at least £2 billion, if necessary by reallocating funds from elsewhere within the aid budget. The report also concludes that the Government should continue to encourage other developed countries to raise their own aid contributions; the UK is one of only six nations to meet the OECD’s 0.7% aid spending target.

The report, which has the backing of Crispin Blunt MP, Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee in the previous Parliament, also recommends the Foreign Secretary should take responsibility for co-ordinating the UK’s overall soft power strategy, helped by a committee of expert representatives from leading UK civil society institutions including the BBC, British Council, and Universities UK.

The report’s other conclusions and recommendations include:

  • Government should establish a research programme to develop a clearer understanding of the UK’s soft power ambition, impact, and audiences.
  • Government should urgently review the resources available to the museums sector, and also re-establish its financial support for the World Collections Programme, providing at least £2 million per year for British museums to develop international partnerships.
  • Government should commit to continuing its recent £85 million annual investment in the BBC World Service’s foreign language programming services beyond the next funding review in 2020.
  • Government should establish a Global Britain Scholarships programme, annually sponsoring 5,000 scholarships for international students to study in the UK and 5,000 scholarships for UK students to study abroad, at an annual cost of around £235 million.

Director of ResPublica, Phillip Blond, said:

“In a post-Brexit world we need to develop a new mindset towards Britain’s place on the global stage, not only through trade but in our relationships and level of influence in all parts of the globe. Soft power means bringing together diplomacy, cultural relations and national interest in a way which turns away from relying solely on military intervention and humanitarian aid and instead provides a more holistic way to promote our values and help others. We need a smarter approach to international aid policy which would see a reallocation of funds to British institutions, including educational, creative and cultural organisations, to deliver this.”

Crispin Blunt MP, Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee 2015-17, in a foreword to the report, says:

“I welcome ResPublica’s timely report on the role of soft power in Britain’s foreign policy. Following Brexit, the United Kingdom must present itself to the world anew, re-engaging with old friends and new allies alike. Summed up by the Foreign Secretary as the building of a “Global Britain”, this vision must be based on the country setting an example of openness, fairness and creativity. I commend ResPublica’s account of institutions as the best agents of promoting the values of our country to others. If re-elected as Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee this is a subject I will propose for early Committee attention.”

Gareth Thomas MP, former Minister for the Department for International Development (DFID) and Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR), said:

“This report bring into clear focus why we need to support building civil society in developing nations around the world. It is in our mutual interests and should be integral to our commitment to supporting developing nations. The work of institutions like the British Council is very valuable in this, not just through activity on the ground but in promoting Britain’s reputation as a country which places value and takes an active interest in the social and political health of other nations. I saw this at first hand when I was a DFID Minister. The challenge is how we support and enhance our commitment to civil society institutional building and ResPublica’s report outlines how this can be achieved.”

Sir Ciaran Devane, Chief Executive of the British Council, said:

“Our world-leading universities, museums and charities give the UK a unique role on the global stage. I see the impact as I travel, whether through the British Council’s own projects or through our partners’ work. Around the world, UK institutions are helping give a voice to the next generation, to women, and to others who are marginalised. By opening up the chance to engage effectively in society and the economy, people start to realise their hopes and ambitions. The UK is helping them to build a better future for their countries, but also for our own.”

Ian Blatchford, Director of the Science Museum Group, said:

“Culture is a powerful bridge between nations and an area where Britain is fantastically placed to create global impact, both in terms of its individual talent pool and its wealth of great institutions. Internationalism is second nature for the Science Museum Group because cross-border collaboration is integral to the history and future of innovation in science, technology and engineering. We, and Britain’s wider museum sector, are rightly celebrated as unique and powerful players in cultural diplomacy.”

Notes to editors

The ResPublica Trust is an independent non-partisan think tank. Through research, policy innovation and programmes, ResPublica seeks to establish a new economic, social and cultural settlement. In order to heal the long-term rifts in this country ResPublica aims to combat the concentration of wealth and power by distributing ownership and agency to all, and by re-instilling culture and virtue across the economy and society.

Britain’s Global Future: Harnessing the soft power capital of UK institutions is supported by the British Council and the Science Museum Group. All conclusions and recommendations contained in the report are independent of these organisations.

The report is available to download from the ResPublica website. For further details and to request a copy of the report contact Sara Badawi at or on 020 3857 8310.


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