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United Kingdom
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Foreign Office.png
FCO Logo
Agency overview
Formed 1968
Jurisdiction United Kingdom
Headquarters FCO Main Building, King Charles Street, London
51°30′09″N 0°07′39.7″W / 51.5025°N 0.127694°W / 51.5025; -0.127694
Annual budget £2.1 billion (2007/8)
Agency executives Rt. Hon. David Miliband MP, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
Glenys Kinnock, Minister of State for Europe
United Kingdom
Coat of Arms of the UK Government

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Entrance to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Whitehall, seen from St. James’s Park

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, commonly called the Foreign Office or the FCO, is the British government department responsible for promoting the interests of the United Kingdom overseas, created in 1968 by merging the Foreign Office and the Commonwealth Office.

The head of the FCO is the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, commonly abbreviated to "Foreign Secretary" (currently David Miliband). This position is regarded as one of the three most prestigious appointments in the Cabinet, alongside those of Chancellor of the Exchequer and Home Secretary. Together with the Prime Minister, these comprise the Great Offices of State.



Ministers at the FCO, as of 9 June 2009, are as follows:[1]

The Permanent Under-Secretary and Head of the Diplomatic Service is Sir Peter Ricketts, KCMG, a senior civil servant.

It has been noted that the regular meetings of all FCO ministers (sometimes referred to as "morning prayers") are difficult to co-ordinate, given the amount of ministerial travel each undertakes.[2]


Shadow Secretaries

The Conservative Party's Shadow Secretary of State is William Hague MP.[3] The Liberal Democrat spokesman is Edward Davey MP.[4]

History of the department

The department's origins

The FCO was formed in 1968, from the merger of the short-lived Commonwealth Office and the Foreign Office. The Commonwealth Office had been created only in 1966, by the merger of the Commonwealth Relations Office and the Colonial Office, and the Commonwealth Relations Office had been formed by the merger of the Dominions Office and the India Office in 1947—with the Dominions Office having been split from the Colonial Office in 1925.

The Foreign Office was formed in March 1782 by combining the Southern and Northern Departments of the Secretary of State, each of which covered both foreign and domestic affairs in their parts of the Kingdom. The two departments' foreign affairs responsibilities became the Foreign Office, whilst their domestic affairs responsibilities were assigned to the Home Office.[5]


When David Miliband took over as Foreign Secretary in June 2007, he set in hand a review of the FCO’s strategic priorities. One of the key messages of these discussions was the conclusion that the existing framework of ten international strategic priorities, dating from 2003, was no longer appropriate. Although the framework had been useful in helping the FCO plan its work and allocate its resources, there was agreement that it needed a new framework to drive its work forward.

The new strategic framework consists of three core elements [1]:

  • A flexible global network of staff and offices, serving the whole of the UK Government.
  • Three essential services which:
    • support the British economy
    • support British nationals abroad and
    • support managed migration for Britain.

These services are delivered through UK Trade and Investment (UKTI), consular teams in the UK and overseas, and the UK Border Agency (UKBA).

  • Four policy goals to:
    • counter terrorism and weapons proliferation and their causes
    • prevent and resolve conflict
    • promote a low carbon, high growth, global economy and
    • develop effective international institutions, in particular the UN and the EU.

In August 2005, a report by management consultant group Collinson Grant was made public by Andrew Mackinlay. The report severely criticised the FCO's management structure, noting that:

  • The Foreign Office could be "slow to act".
  • Delegation is lacking within the management structure.
  • Accountability was poor.
  • 1200 jobs could feasibly be cut.
  • At least £48 million could be saved annually.

The Foreign Office commissioned the report to highlight areas which would help it achieve its pledge to reduce spending by £87 million pounds over three years. In response to the report being made public, the Foreign Office stated it had already implemented the report's recommendations. [2]

In April 2006 a new executive agency was established, FCO Services, to provide corporate service functions. In April 2008 it moved to Trading Fund status so it had the ability to provide similar services which it already offers to the FCO, to other government departments and even outside businesses.

History of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office main building

Ceiling above the Foreign Office's State Stair, 2008
The State Stair, 2008
The western or park end of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's building in 1866. It was then occupied by the Foreign and India Offices, while the Home and Colonial Offices occupied the Whitehall end

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office occupies a building which originally provided premises for four separate government departments: the Foreign Office, the India Office, the Colonial Office, and the Home Office. Construction on the building began in 1861 and finished in 1868, and it was designed by the architect George Gilbert Scott. Its architecture is in the Italianate style; Scott had initially envisaged a Gothic design, but the then Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston insisted on a classical style. (Palmerston was Prime Minister at the time the building was begun, in 1861, not Foreign Secretary, a post that he had not held since 1851.) English sculptor John Birnie Philip produced a number of allegorical figures ('Art', 'Law', 'Commerce', etc) for the exterior.

In 1925, the Foreign Office played host to the signing of the Locarno Treaties, aimed at reducing tension in Europe. The ceremony took place in a suite of rooms that had been designed for banqueting, which subsequently became known as the Locarno Suite. During the Second World War, the Locarno Suite's fine furnishings were removed or covered up, and it became home to a foreign office code-breaking department.

Due to increasing numbers of staff, the offices became increasingly cramped and much of the fine Victorian interior was covered over—especially after World War II. In the 1960s, demolition was proposed, as part of major redevelopment plan for the area drawn up by architect Sir Leslie Martin. A subsequent public outcry prevented these proposals from ever being implemented. Instead, the Foreign Office became a Grade 1 listed building in 1970. In 1978, the Home office moved to a new building, easing overcrowding.

With a new sense of the building's historical value, it underwent a 17-year, £100 million restoration process, completed in 1997. The Locarno Suite, used as offices and storage since the Second World War, was fully restored for use in international conferences. The building is now open to the public each year over Open House Weekend. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is now also the main tenant of the Admiralty Extension building, at the opposite end of Horse Guards Parade.

List of Foreign and Commonwealth Office home properties

  • FCO Main Building, Whitehall, King Charles St, London (abbreviated to KCS by FCO staff)
  • Kirkland House, 22-24 Whitehall, London.
  • Old Admiralty Building, Whitehall, London (abbreviated to OAB by FCO staff)
  • Hanslope Park, Hanslope, Milton Keynes (abbreviated to HSP by FCO staff). Location of FCO Services, HMGCC and Technical Security Department of the UK Secret Intelligence Service)

See also


  1. ^ Ministerial Team
  2. ^ Theakston, Professor Kevin (1999). "Junior Ministers in the 1990s" (in English). Parliamentary Affairs (United Kingdom) 52 (2): pp230-245.  
  3. ^ House of Commons Information Office (8 September 2009). "Her Majesty's Official Opposition". UK Parliament. Retrieved 25 November 2009.  
  4. ^ House of Commons Information Office (13 July 2009). "Liberal Democrat Shadow Cabinet and Parliamentary Team". UK Parliament. Retrieved 25 November 2009.  
  5. ^ A brief history of the FCO Foreign and Commonwealth Office

External links

Coordinates: 51°30′09.7″N 0°07′39.7″W / 51.502694°N 0.127694°W / 51.502694; -0.127694


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