Tue, Nov 20, 2007 - Page 6 News List

UK report warns on cutting funding for overseas diplomacy

AP , LONDON

A squeeze on funding for Britain's Foreign Office risks jeopardizing diplomacy overseas and could hamper efforts to improve security at embassies, according to a report by lawmakers released yesterday.

The Foreign Affairs Select Committee criticized government spending plans, saying they provide inadequate funds for work overseas by British officials.

The annual budget of ?1.6 billion (US$3.2 billion) will increase by about ?100 million by 2010, a decrease in real terms because of inflation, the committee of legislators said in the study.

The spending plan is one of the "tightest" among government departments and "risks jeopardizing the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's important work," the report said.

Lawmakers said they are concerned that ?183 million earmarked for security improvements is less than what officials requested.

"What happens when a British ambassador or consulate in the Middle East is blown up?" former ambassador to Italy Ivor Roberts said in testimony before the committee.

Peter Ricketts, the Foreign Office's top diplomat, said the amount of money available for security enhancements is less than that demanded despite "considerable" security upgrades needed at many embassies.

Britain's embassy in Istanbul, Turkey, was bombed in 2003 along with the offices of London-based bank HSBC.

But the committee also acknowledged mistakes had been made by the Foreign Office.

The government was forced to buy back the Dublin residence of the ambassador to Ireland, which had been sold in 1999 for ?24 million, after discovering a new site was riddled with asbestos.

Ricketts said Britain spent ?24 million securing one of Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's palaces as a base for diplomats.

They spent six months there before the building was handed over to Iraqi control.

The department has also been criticized over its spending on an advertising campaign featuring the girlfriend of an English soccer star.

Lawmakers said the office had paid ?2,000 to Charlotte Mears, girlfriend of soccer player Jermain Defoe, for 10 hours of work on a travel safety guide.

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