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UK changes diplomatic vision

UK changes diplomatic vision

Foreign Service in the UK is all set to change. The conservative, time-tested approach to choosing its representatives abroad is making way for a more business-friendly method. It wants to hire ambassadors from the private sector in a dramatic shift that could install corporate executives in key diplomatic posts. UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt is expected to frame the change as a part of a broader effort to expand the country's diplomatic network. He will announce 12 new posts and nearly 1,000 new personnel in the largest expansion of the diplomatic corps in "a generation". The UK Foreign Office says there will be 335 new diplomatic posts overseas, 328 new roles in London and 329 new locally engaged staff. Unlike in the US, UK ambassadors have traditionally been selected only from the ranks of the civil service. The announcement heralds a departure from that practice. The US is unusual in that certain ambassadorial posts are often given to political donors, some of whom have no experience in diplomacy or government. Dave Penman, general secretary of the civil servant trade union FDA, said in a tweet that diplomats receive years of training because representing the UK abroad is about more than just trade. "Diplomats are made, not born and the UK's interests are best served by a professional diplomatic service," he said. Hunt said, "There will be absolutely no conflict of interest allowed and anyone applying for these jobs will apply through normal foreign office processes." Peter Westmacott, who was the British ambassador to the US, France and Turkey, said that opening up the applications to business leaders could be a good way of trying to draw upon the best available talent. "I agree with others who have said that if we are doing this, we should not go down the route of cronyism which sometimes you've had in America when money or friendship have counted more than talent," Westmacott said. "It has to be done on a basis of careful assessment of the credibility of the candidates in open competition. If they're the best, then that's just fine. There's a lot to be said for having more diversity of background and for bringing business experience to the conduct of diplomacy, especially but not only where UK business interests are at stake," he added. The Foreign Office had already opened itself up to applicants from other areas of government, such as the intelligence services. If there are business leaders out there with the skills and commitment, the willingness to take what is probably a big pay cut, and who love the idea of representing their country abroad, that would suit the change.

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