HK to escape axe on missions
By DAVID WALLEN in London and RACHEL CLARKE
HONGKONG is to escape huge Foreign Office cuts which will close British diplomatic missions around the world.
Though the consulate-general to be established here after 1997 will be one of Britain's largest overseas missions, the Foreign Office is hoping it will be opened at full-strength.
Sixty British and 200 local staff will be employed at the British Consulate-General after the handover, with a further five Britons and 170 locals working for the British Council in the same Colvin House redevelopment.
Elsewhere, overseas postings are set to be closed or reduced, perhaps leading to several small countries being served from one mission.
The cuts are part of the Foreign Office's board of management plans to reduce expenditure and stay within its Treasury-allocated budget.
Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd does not welcome any lessening of Britain's presence around the world at a time when questions are being raised about the country's suitability as a permanent member on the United Nations Security Council.
British embassies in Germany, France and Belgium are running pilot schemes to assess whether market research companies can provide better surveys and reports of market opportunities for firms than diplomats.
But a Foreign Office spokesman denied suggestions that embassy work would be privatised to allow cuts in staff numbers.
''It is not intended as a precursor for any major contracting out of our services,'' he said.
''Hongkong needn't be concerned in any way because there is nothing on the export side that is going to be privatised. The move comes as part of a drive for greater efficiency not just within the Foreign Office but within Whitehall.'' But the large consulate-general in Hongkong, which would fulfil former prime minister Lady Thatcher's wish for a prestigious mission to mark Britain's continuing interest in the territory, could still arouse bad feelings.