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Role details

Chair of the British Council

Application deadline 7 May 2023


British Council
Sponsor department
Foreign Commonwealth & Development Office
Audit and Risk, Business, Commercial, Communication, International Experience
Number of vacancies
Time commitment
30 day(s) per annum
Length of term
Three years
Application deadline
11:59pm on 7 May 2023

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Timeline for this appointment

  1. Opening date

    6 April 2023

  2. Application deadline

    11:59pm on 7 May 2023

  3. Sifting date

    29 May 2023

  4. Interviews expected to end on

    10 July 2023

Timeline dates are only an estimate and can change

About the role

Additional introductions

Dear Candidate
Thank you for your interest in the role of Chair of the British Council.
The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. It supports peace and prosperity by building connections, understanding and trust between people in the UK and countries worldwide. It works in close partnership with the Government, in particular the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, and is also a registered charity and public corporation. Its important contribution and role in maximising the UK’s soft power was recognised in the recent Integrated Review Refresh (March 2023).
The following pages will tell you more about the purpose of the organisation, and the role of Chair, as well as the application process. Please also view the British Council’s website to understand their work: British Council | The UK’s international culture and education organisation.
As Chair, you will be expected to ensure the British Council has a clear mission, provide strategic vision and leadership to the Board of Trustees, and guide the organisation through some significant reforms to its business model. It is a challenging, high-profile role.
If you believe you have the experience and qualities required, we very much look forward to hearing from you.
Sir Philip Barton, Permanent Under Secretary of State at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office

Role description

We are looking to appoint a Chair who, working with the Deputy Chair and other Trustees, will:
  • Ensure that the British Council has a clear vision, mission and strategic direction and ensure that this is communicated to stakeholders and to the wider public.
  • Supports and holds the Executive responsible for delivering the strategy.
  • Ensure that the British Council complies with all legal, regulatory and financial requirements and that corporate governance is of the highest standard
  • Act as guardian of British Council reputation and assets, both tangible and intangible
Strong strategic leadership and influencing skills are essential. The Chair will complement the role of the CEO offering advice, expertise and support, whilst avoiding involvement in executive management; the roles are distinct. The Chair will also be responsible for providing strong and effective leadership to the Board ensuring the Trustees discharge their legal and public service responsibilities including the identification and management of organisational risks. The Chair will work inclusively, constructively and flexibly enabling the Board to fulfil its responsibilities for the effective governance of the charity and protection of the wider reputation of the British Council.
Trustees, including the Chair, carry out these responsibilities by:
  • Preparing for and participating fully in Board meetings
  • Becoming a member of a Board sub-committee as required and appropriate
  • Participating in additional ad-hoc meetings
  • Visiting the British Council’s operations overseas on occasion virtually and physically
  • Being an advocate for the British Council in the UK including representational duties
In addition, more specifically the Chair is required to:
  • Provide leadership to the Board of Trustees;
  • Play a significant role in maintaining and further developing the British Council’s relationship with key stakeholders in the UK including Ministers
  • Use their fundraising experience and connections to enable the organisation to attract significant new income; build sympathetic partnerships which complement and enhance the work and mission of the British Council.
  • Amplifying the voice of the British Council;
  • Lead the Board in supporting and holding the Executive to account for the delivery of agreed strategy;
  • Regularly review the effectiveness of the Board and its composition, ensuring that appropriate processes are in place to recruit and appoint new Board members
  • Chair the Nominations Committee and attend at least two other committees
  • Lead the selection process for a new Deputy Chair as and when required.

Organisation description

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. It creates opportunities, builds connections, and engenders trust between the UK and other countries through arts and culture, education, and the English language. It works with people in over 200 countries and territories and has offices in more than 100 countries. It is an executive non-departmental public body, sponsored by the FCDO, and also a registered charity and a public corporation.
Further information on the British Council and its activities, including its most recent annual report can be found on the British Council’s website.

Board composition

The Board currently comprises fourteen Trustees. The Trustees of the Board are listed below and biographical information for each Trustee can be found on the British Council’s website.
  • Sarah Sands (Deputy Chair and currently acting chair);
  • Professor Wendy Alexander;
  • Mark Beddy;
  • Sir Stephen Deuchar CBE
  • Yasmin Diamond CB
  • Thomas Drew CMG
  • Richard Hookway
  • David Lefevre
  • Rageh Omaar
  • Malcolm Press
  • Clare Reddington
  • Dame Seona Reid DBE
  • Sushil Saluja
  • Fiona Salzen

Person specification

Essential criteria

Candidates must demonstrate an impressive record of achievement at a senior level in large and complex organisations operating internationally. They must have the experience and awareness necessary to operate confidently in less stable and more politically sensitive parts of the world.
Candidates must demonstrate the ability to oversee the British Council’s response to significant challenges over the next few years. These include shaping the strategy so it remains relevant, oversight of major changes in its business and funding models, the inherent risks, and the need for considerable re-skilling and culture change, in the context of ever-growing public scrutiny. It means looking for opportunities and efficiencies. This requires long-term focus, but also agility.
Details on how to apply are set out below. All candidates must demonstrate, in their CV and supporting letter, how they meet the following essential criteria, through their knowledge, attributes and skills.
  • Proven track record of delivery, of developing strategies, and of overseeing their implementation across a complex organisation.
  • Strong understanding of the British Council’s mission and core activities, for example of education and/or the creative sector.
  • Proven expertise in building and managing complex stakeholder relationships at the highest level, including with government, influencers and donors.
  • Experience of working with international partners and an understanding of relevant geopolitical context and trends.
  • Sound commercial acumen, experience of growing and diversifying income generating opportunities globally and evidence of using fundraising experience and connections to attract significant new income to an organisation. Ability to leverage partnerships and new opportunities, especially in the context of income and expenditure limits.
  • Strong skills in communicating, influencing, inspiring and advocating, and a passion for reaching new audiences.
  • Prior board experience – with chair level experience highly desired – with the ability to be decisive and to build consensus.
  • Good political acumen and an awareness of operating in an environment where there is much external scrutiny; from government, politicians, the public and commentators.

Application and selection process

How to apply

Saxton Bampfylde Ltd is acting as an employment agency advisor on this appointment and will be supporting the application process.

For your application to be considered, you will be required to submit:

  • A Curriculum Vitae (maximum two sides of A4) with your education, professional qualifications and full employment history.
  • A supporting statement (maximum two sides of A4), setting out how you meet the eligibility criteria – make sure you refer to the contents of this document; please ensure your full name is clearly noted at the top of your letter.
  • Recruitment Monitoring and conflicts of interest form (here) – See section below for further details. If you experience problems accessing the monitoring form please contact the Sponsor Team. This form also includes an opt-in for Disability Confident – Offering an interview to disabled people.
  • Contact details including e-mail addresses for two referees;
  • Confirmation of eligibility for the post, specifically citizenship requirements (see section on eligibility below)

WHERE TO APPLY: Saxton Bampfylde Ltd is acting as an employment agency advisor on this appointment. Candidates should apply for this role through their website at using code ONCF.

The Advisory Assessment Panel reserves the right to only consider applications that contain all of the elements listed above, and that arrive before the deadline for applications listed in this pack.

Saxton Bampflyde will acknowledge receipt of your application via email in 5 working days. If you do not receive this acknowledgement, please contact the FCDO Sponsor Team at

Overview of the application process

Indicative timetable for recruitment

  • Closing date: 7 May 2023
  • Shortlisting to complete (indicative date): 12 June 2023
  • Interviews held (indicative date): week commencing 26 June 2023
  • Provisional appointment start date: 1 August 2023

It is essential that your statement of suitability gives full but concise information relevant to the appointment, clearly demonstrating how you meet each of the eligibility criteria.

At the shortlist meeting the Panel will assess each application against the eligibility criteria and decide who to invite for final interview. Interviews are expected to take place in London and will last for approximately 45 minutes. Further details about the format will be provided to you in advance.

The appointment is subject to the approval of the Foreign Secretary and candidates who are deemed appointable may be invited to meet with Ministers before a final decision is made. The successful candidate, having previously been approved by the Foreign Secretary, is elected to the chair role by the British Council Board of trustees.

You will be able to claim reasonable travel expenses incurred travelling to and from the interview (please note you may be asked to justify travelling costs if the FCDO considers the claims excessive). Please let Joe Huggett know beforehand if you are likely to claim, along with the approximate costs by contacting

Reasonable adjustments

As a Disability Confident employer we are committed to ensuring that candidates with disabilities are provided with the adjustments that they require as part of the recruitment process. We are able to facilitate a range of different reasonable adjustments; for example, large print recruitment documents or British Sign Language interpretation at interview.

If you require any reasonable adjustments as part of the recruitment process, please contact Joe Huggett via or 07737 367 005 to discuss your requirements in more detail.

Advisory Assessment Panel (AAP)

The Advisory Assessment Panel will consist of:
  • Panel Chair and Departmental Representative: Thomas Drew, FCDO Director General, Defence and Intelligence at the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office and Trustee on the Board of the British Council
  • Independent Panel Member: Sir Ian Blatchford, Chief Executive of the Science Museum Group and Director at the Science Museum
  • Independent Panel Member: Stephanie Phair, Group President at Farfetch and former Chair of the British Fashion Council.

Eligibility criteria

In general, you should have the right to work in the UK to be eligible to apply for a public appointment. In the case of this particular role, as set out in the British Council Charter, a person is not eligible to be elected as Chair unless he or she is a British citizen. Please confirm this upon submitting your application.
The Government expects all holders of public office to work to the highest personal and professional standards.
You cannot be considered for a public appointment if:
  • you are disqualified from acting as a company director (under the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986);
  • have an unspent conviction on your criminal record;
  • your estate has been sequestrated in Scotland or you enter into a debt arrangement programme under Part 1 of the Debt Arrangement and Attachment (Scotland) Act 2002 (asp 17) as the debtor or have, under Scots law, granted a trust deed for creditors.
When you apply, you should declare if:
  • you are, or have been, bankrupt or you have made an arrangement with a creditor at any point, including the dates of this.
  • you are subject to a current police investigation.
You must inform the sponsor department if, during the application process, your circumstances change in respect of any of the above points.
When you apply you should also declare any relevant interests, highlighting any that you think may call into question your ability to properly discharge the responsibilities of the role you are applying for. You should also declare any other matters which may mean you may not be able to meet the requirements of the British Council’s Code of Conduct.
If you need further advice, please contact Joe Huggett at

Security clearance

The successful candidate will be required to undertake Baseline Personnel Security Standard checks in line with the Civil Service guidelines. Additional Security Clearance may also be required for certain roles. However, where this applies, candidates will be notified during the appointment process. Further information on National Security Vetting can be found on the website here.

Additional information for candidates

Equality and diversity

We encourage applications from talented individuals from all backgrounds and across the whole of the United Kingdom. Boards of public bodies are most effective when they reflect the diversity of views of the society they serve and this is an important part of the Government’s levelling up agenda.
We collect data about applicants’ characteristics and backgrounds, including information about people’s educational and professional backgrounds, so that we can make sure we are attracting a broad range of people to these roles and that our selection processes are fair for everyone. Without this information, it makes it difficult to see if our outreach is working, if the application process is having an unfair impact on certain groups and whether changes are making a positive difference.
When you submit your application, we ask all applicants to public appointments to complete a diversity monitoring form. The data is used to produce management information about the diversity of applicants. You can select “prefer not to say” to any question you do not wish to answer. The information you provide will not be seen by the Advisory Assessment Panel who review applications against the advertised criteria and conduct interviews.

Disability confident

We are a member of the Government’s Disability Confident scheme. We use the Disability Confident scheme symbol, along with other like-minded employers, to show our commitment to good practice in employing people with a disability. The scheme helps recruit and retain people with disabilities.
As a Disability Confident employer, we are committed to ensuring that candidates with disabilities are provided with the adjustments that they require as part of the recruitment process. If you require any reasonable adjustments, please get in touch with the Sponsor Team ( to discuss your requirements.
As part of implementing the scheme, we guarantee an interview for anyone with a disability whose application meets the essential criteria for the role, and who has asked that their application is considered under the scheme. Indicating that you wish your application to be considered under the scheme will in no way prejudice your application.
When you apply you will have the opportunity to select if you would like your application considered under this scheme in the diversity monitoring form.

Reasonable adjustments

As a Disability Confident employer we are committed to ensuring that candidates with disabilities are provided with the adjustments that they require as part of the recruitment process. We are able to facilitate a range of different reasonable adjustments; for example, large print recruitment documents or British Sign Language interpretation at interview.
If you require any reasonable adjustments as part of the recruitment process, please contact Joe Huggett via or 07737 367 005 to discuss your requirements in more detail.

Principles of public life

Holders of public office are expected to adhere to and uphold the Seven Principles of Public Life These are:

  1. SELFLESSNESS - Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family or their friends;
  2. INTEGRITY - Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might seek to influence them in the performance of their official duties;
  3. OBJECTIVITY - In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit;
  4. ACCOUNTABILITY - Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office;
  5. OPENNESS - Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands;
  6. HONESTY - Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest;
  7. LEADERSHIP - Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.

Code of conduct for board members

The Government expects all holders of public office to work to the highest personal and professional standards. In support of this, all non-executive board members of UK public bodies must abide by the principles set out in the Code of Conduct for Board Members of Public Bodies. The Code sets out the standards expected from those who serve on the boards of UK public bodies and will form part of your terms and conditions of appointment.
All Board Members are required to adhere to the UK Charity Code of Conduct.

Management of outside interests and consideration of reputational issues

Given the nature of public appointments, it is important that those appointed as Members of public bodies maintain the confidence of Parliament and the public. If there are any issues in your personal or professional history that could, if you were appointed, be misconstrued, cause embarrassment, or cause public confidence in the appointment to be jeopardised, it is important that you bring them to the attention of the Advisory Assessment Panel (“Panel”) and provide details of the issue(s) in your application. In considering whether you wish to declare any issues, you should also reflect on any public statements you have made, including through social media.
As part of our due diligence checks we will consider anything in the public domain related to your conduct or professional capacity. This will include us undertaking searches of previous public statements and social media, blogs, public registers (e.g. Individual Insolvency Register, Removed Trustee Register, Financial Services Prohibited Individual Register and Disqualified Directors Register) or any other publicly available information.
The Panel must satisfy itself that all candidates for appointment can meet the standards set out in the Seven Principles of Public Life and, have no outside interests which present a conflict of interest or otherwise call into question their ability to perform the role. Any actual, reasonably perceived or potential conflicts of interest identified during the appointment process and potential mitigations will be explored with the candidate at interview. This information will also be included in the final advice to Ministers at the end of the appointment process.
If you have any interests that might be relevant to the work of the British Council, and which could lead to a real or perceived conflict of interest if you were to be appointed, please provide details in your application. There is a section covering this in the monitoring form.
If you have queries about this and would like to discuss further please contact the Sponsor Team ( A potential conflict will not preclude you from being shortlisted or appointed. However, arrangements may need to be put in place to manage the real or perceived conflict.

Status of appointment

As this is an office holder appointment, you will not become a member of the Civil Service. You will not be subject to the provisions of employment law.

Appointment and tenure of office

This appointment is approved by the Foreign Secretary and the appointment is elected to the chair role by the British Council Board of trustees
Appointments are for a three-year term with the possibility of re-appointment for a further term, at the discretion of the Board of Trustees and with the pre-approval of the Foreign Secretary. Any re-appointment is subject to satisfactory annual appraisals of performance during the first term in the post. If re-appointed, the total time served in post will not exceed more than two terms.

Remuneration, allowances and abatement

The role is not remunerated but reasonable travel and other expenses will be reimbursed.

Pension and redundancy

This is an office holder appointment and does not attract any benefits under any Civil Service Pension Scheme. You will not be eligible for redundancy pay as you are not an employee. No other arrangements have been made for compensation upon the end of your term of appointment because an office holder who is appointed for a limited duration would have no expectation of serving beyond that period.

Application feedback

We will notify you of the status of your application. We regret that we are only able to offer detailed feedback to candidates who have been unsuccessful at the interview stage.

How to complain

If you are not completely satisfied with the recruitment process, please contact the Sponsor Team. They will investigate your complaint and issue you with a response within 10 working days which addresses your concerns and recommends remedial action if required.
If you are not content with this response you can request your complaint can be escalated to the Senior Sponsor. They will review your complaint in relation to the recruitment process and issue you with a response within 20 working days.
If you are still not satisfied, you can ask Charity Commission to investigate your complaint. The contact details can be found below:

Charity Commission

PO Box 211


L20 7YX

Web address: The Charity Commission - GOV.UK (

Tel: 0300 066 9197

Data protection

The Cabinet Office will use your data in line with our privacy policy.
Your personal information will be held in accordance with the General Data Protection Regulation. You will not receive unsolicited paper or electronic mail as a result of sending us any personal information. No personal information will be passed on to third parties for commercial purposes.
When you submit personal information to us when making an application, we promise we will:
  • only ask for what we need, and not collect too much or irrelevant information;
  • ensure you know why we need it;
  • protect it and insofar as is possible, make sure nobody has access to it who shouldn't;
  • ensure you know what choice you have about giving us information;
  • make sure we don't keep it longer than necessary; and
  • only use your information for the purposes you have authorised.
We ask that you:
  • give us accurate information
  • tell us as soon as possible of any changes; and
  • tell us as soon as possible if you notice mistakes in the information we hold about you.
If you apply for a post, the manner in which we share information with the interview panel is described above.
Our data protection policy is in line with the General Data Protection Regulations and there is more detail in Annex B of the Candidate Pack.
If you would like these details to be removed from our records as soon as this recruitment exercise is complete, please inform the Sponsor Team ( The Privacy Notice for Cabinet Office Public Appointments is at Annex B.
Saxton Bampflyde GDPR personal data notice:
According to GDPR guidelines, Saxton Bampfylde is only able to process your Sensitive Personal Data (racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs, trade union membership, genetic data, biometric data, health, sex life, or sexual orientation) with your express consent. You will be asked to complete a consent form when you apply and please do not include any Sensitive Personal Data within your CV (although this can be included in your covering letter if you wish to do so), remembering also not to include contact details for referees without their prior agreement.

Contact details

Sponsor Team (