Wilton Park at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Leadership conference

28 May, 2013

The Wilton Park team kicked off its involvement at the annual Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Leadership Conference, on Monday 13 May with our half day panel event on assessing Diplomatic Excellence.

Leadership week, described as one of the most important dates in the FCO’s diary, brings together Heads of Missions, FCO Ministers, and Board members to discuss policy priorities and challenges for the year ahead.

The Diplomatic Excellence panel event took full advantage of the number of Ambassadors in town, also drawing together experts from media, business, think tanks, charities and a range of Government departments to discuss FCO performance over the past year. Our Chief Executive, Richard Burge, employed a range of new facilitation techniques to engage participants and draw out strong conclusions on the direction of FCO travel. This meeting was conducted in partnership with the Institute for Government and co-chaired by Associate, Jonathan McClory who helped shape the programme based on a number of innovative facilitation ideas.

We also attended the Foreign Secretary, William Hague’s, opening speech which outlined immediate challenges including Syria, as well as broader initiatives such as preventing sexual violence, and developing stronger relationships with a range of global economic players. Mr Hague emphasised the professionalism and dedication of FCO staff, both at home and abroad, and their commitment to supporting British diplomacy.

Ambassadors, High Commissioners and Governors presented short scenarios over the course of the week, providing attendees with an insight into embassy life, for example, Ambassador to Lebanon, Tom Fletcher gave an overview of his office’s positive use of digital diplomacy. Richard Burge also spoke to a number of high level officials and a podcast is available to listen to.

Meanwhile, Wilton Park Programme Directors were also on hand throughout the week to discuss our work with FCO officials as well as to attend meetings led by the FCO regional teams. Isobelle Jaques attended the South Asia and Middle East and North Africa meetings, both of which provided a valuable insight into FCO priorities. High Commissioner James Bevan was present at the South Asia meeting to discuss the UK’s relationship with India, and was very positive in his comments about the future of Wilton Park work in India, fuelled by Richard Burge’s recent trip to New Delhi, hosted by the High Commission.

Parliamentary Under-Secretary Alistair Burt led discussion at the Middle East and North Africa meeting, focusing on the Arab Spring and the Middle East Peace Process.

Kathryn Hingston attended the Africa All-Party Parliamentary Group roundtable hosted by Minister for Africa, Mark Simmonds. Discussion amongst Ambassadors and MPs focused on security and conflict, notably in the Sahel; although also touched upon the significant investment opportunities available for UK business in Africa, highlighted by the Lord Mayor of London’s recent trip to Luanda to discuss urbanisation and financial service prospects.

Adela Gooch participated in discussions on Europe and Russia at which David Lidington, the Minister for Europe outlined policy priorities.

Our stand at the QEII also generated significant attention, particularly among FCO policy teams, but also from Ambassadors such as Mark Canning, Head of the UK’s Mission to Indonesia, a country with which Wilton Park has over the past year secured a very strong relationship, facilitated by our overseas Post.

Overall, the week’s events delivered an important overview of current issues within a range of countries and regions which will no doubt help to focus our work over the coming year. Additionally the week provided a good opportunity to engage with a broad range of FCO officials, a particularly encouraging experience for all given the positive feedback on Wilton Park conferences over the past year, and numerous offers of assistance and contribution to future work.

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