Foreign office consults on Christmas greetings

The foreign office is trying to work out whether Christmas merits a special greeting for embassy officials, after David Miliband missed it last year but remembered Ramadan.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) began a consultation earlier this month on how to “strike the right balance” when “celebrating British (and FCO) diversity with messages from the Foreign Secretary and others on significant dates”.

It followed staff complaints about the “depressingly predictable” failure of the Foreign Secretary, Mr Miliband, to send out a special greeting at Christmas and Easter.

The FCO does send out statements celebrating the Muslim festival of Ramadan and the Jewish New Year.

Now staff will be asked to suggest which religious festivals should be added to the list.

In response, Nicola Bowles, FCO head of corporate communications wrote: “As you say, the current system for celebrating British (and FCO) diversity with messages from the Foreign Secretary and others on significant dates could maybe be improved.

“We are now consulting with private offices, stakeholder managers and the diversity strategy unit to draw up guidelines that strike the right balance.

“The aim is to find a way to celebrate our diversity – and offer reassurances to groups who may feel marginalised – without falling into the trap of diminishing impact (or indeed overloading our communications system) through an unnecessary plethora of messages.”

She was responding to a complaint from staff policy employee Mark Thomas in an internal newsletter called News and Views: “It was depressingly predictable that the Foreign Secretary found the time to deliver a special Ramadan message after scoring misses at Christmas, Easter and any other number of occasions when different faiths celebrate special festivals or periods throughout the calendar year.”

News of the consultation followed a report on the FCO by a consultancy firm which criticised its disproportionate emphasis on “diversity” at the expense of making the most of the “bright people” it employed.

“The irony is that many participants suggested that the real issue in the Office was not diversity of gender, skin colour, race or belief but rather genuine diversity of thought. We agree. The Office spends a lot of time and money worrying about diversity of people, and nowhere near enough time and money worrying about diversity of thought.

“If the Office is successful in achieving the latter, the former will, over time, occur naturally.

“It recruits bright people brimming with independent thought but then proceeds, both intentionally and unintentionally, to apparently ‘clone’ them.”

The report, completed in August 2008 but only made available in March this year, said “we have never come across an organisation so stuffed full of talent”, but added, “how can it continue to get so many obvious, ‘common sense’ issues wrong with so many excellent people?”.

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