Foreign Office shoestring close to snapping

Britain cannot continue managing its foreign policy on a "shoestring", MPs are warning, on a day of significant developments on the world stage.

David Cameron is the first western leader to visit Burma for decades and William Hague is summoning the North Korean ambassador to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) over a failed rocket launch, as pressure grows on the Syrian regime over its fledgling ceasefire with opposition forces.

Focus on international affairs is especially acute given the Commons' foreign affairs committee's report out today warning that the FCO is underfunded.

MPs said the 2010 spending review, which is cutting the department's spending in real terms by 26% by 2014/15, was forcing officials to take steps which will significantly erode Britain's standing overseas.

The FCO is selling off ten per cent of its property overseas, cutting the British Council so much it "risks a diminution of the UK's influence and soft power" and reducing overseas postings for UK-based staff. Britain has 900 staff based abroad at present.

Committee chair Richard Ottaway said its initial 2011 report that the spending review would have a "very damaging effect" on Britain's ability to promote its interests overseas still held true.

"The decisions so far taken by the FCO to implement the spending review… have indicated that our initial conclusions were correct," he said.

Speaking on the Today programme, the senior Conservative MP pointed out that the FCO's budget was less than Kent county council. The UK government spends less than one per cent of its total spending on the FCO.

"We hold our head high on the world stage, but it can't be done on a shoestring," Mr Ottaway warned. "It has to be properly funded."

The FCO said it was "encouraging" that MPs had described its work as 'impressive'.

A spokesperson said: "We are working hard to live within the 'tough but fair' spending review settlement and are restructuring our estate, workforce and corporate services to deliver efficiency savings while still protecting our frontline activities.

"We have noted the recommendations put forward by the committee and will formally respond in due course."