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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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 on 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.
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