The comments come as one government department’s specialised language facility faces the axe and another is to be reconfigured less than five years after it was closed.
The Ministry of Defence is pressing ahead with plans to cut the core activities of the MOD’s Defence School for Languages in Beaconsfield, affecting tuition in French, Italian, Spanish and Russian among other languages, and removing the posts of 21 linguistic specialists.
While language tuition for countries where MOD has on-going defence operations, such as Arabic and Farsi, is subject to separate Treasury funding and is not affected by the cuts, speculation remains that it will be moved to London when DSL’s headquarters in Beaconsfield closes later this year as part of MOD’s asset reduction commitment in the last spending review.
In tandem, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is looking to increase its language training provision after Foreign Secretary William Hague committed an extra £1m per year to reopen a language school within the Foreign Office last September.
FCO’s language facility was closed in 2007 in a bid to save £1.5m with the loss of 104 jobs – a move condemned by Prospect at the time as ‘ill-thought out and damaging.’ It provided diplomats, MPs and senior public servants, including specialists involved in the fight against terrorism, with tuition in over 41 foreign languages, including Arabic and Farsi.
Prospect MOD rep and former DSL tutor Mark Turner said: “Surely the experience of the FCO should act as a warning to MOD. If the UK is to maintain its international standing then diplomatic and defence training activities should be to the fore of government policy. But once the specialist skills within DSL are gone they will be exceedingly hard to replace.
“We are calling for an urgent rethink of the future of DSL, certainly until the possibility of a shared facility has been explored, before the expertise behind the services it provides is lost or left to languish with limited opportunities for departmental redeployment.”
Turner said that while Defence Minster Nick Harvey had responded to parliamentary questions on the issue by saying MOD were examining links with the Foreign Office, DSL members have yet to see real evidence of the “closer collaboration” referred to, adding: “We would welcome any opportunity to inform and influence this process.”
Notes to editors:
Tom Harris MP (Glasgow South) and former defence minister Bob Ainsworth MP (Coventry North East) both tabled questions regarding the loss of DSL.
In his speech to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office last September Foreign Secretary William Hague said:
"We saw the much lamented axing of the Foreign Office Language School and reduced investment in language skills, which led to shorter periods of training in scattered locations, without the esprit de corps that comes from our diplomats studying languages together. We ended up with shortages in skilled speakers of Arabic, Mandarin, Afghan languages and even French."