Now you see it, now you don't
Jo Glanville: Now you see it, now you don't
04 Feb 11

At a parliamentary briefing this week on the World Service cuts (five language services to close, end of radio programmes in seven languages, 650 jobs lost), MPs were puzzled about the logic of the government’s actions. Why was the World Service being so brutally diminished when the government is actually increasing its foreign aid spending? Surely Bush House should qualify for some of that funding? There can be no doubt that World Service programmes contribute substantially towards the goals of international development: increasing access to information and freedom of expression around the world, essential for the foundation and health of any democracy. Well, it turns out that the Foreign Office (which has always funded the World Service till now) actually counts £25m of its grant-in-aid to the World Service towards meeting the government’s development goals. At the briefing in Westminster Hall, the former diplomat Lord Hannay declared it was a “con trick” — the World Service helps the government meet its target without entailing any further spending and without actually receiving development funding for its significant contribution. When you consider that the cuts over the next three years are totalling £46m and destroying Bush House’s position as the world’s single largest international broadcaster, receiving £25m would have averted the catastrophic blow that has just been delivered. Bush House has as much claim to international aid as the British Council (which received £40m in international development funding last year via the Foreign Office). The government urgently needs to rethink its strategy and at the very least justify why the Pope is deemed worthy of foreign aid, yet one of our greatest cultural institutions is disqualified: £1.85m of the development budget was spent on the papal visit last year.

By Jo Glanville

Jo Glanville is editor of Looking for an enemy: eight essays on antisemitism (Short Books) and Qissat: short stories by Palestinian women (Telegram/Saqi Books). She is a former editor of Index on Censorship.