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British government under fire for failing to back Unesco efforts

13 May 1999 (See Nature Volume 399 page 100)

[LONDON] British supporters of Unesco remain at loggerheads with the government over the extent to which it is prepared to support Britain's membership of the UN agency, which it rejoined in 1997 after a 12-year absence.

The Labour government rejoined in order to fulfil a commitment the party had made before coming to power in the 1997 election. Since then, however, Whitehall departments have been reluctant to provide additional financial support for Unesco-related activities on top of the annual membership fee.

Last week, the two joint chairmen of the UK Unesco Forum - Dennis Chisman and Malcolm Harper - wrote to Jack Cunningham, the minister for the cabinet office, protesting that there appeared to be "overwhelming evidence" that the government's commitment to integrated government was not being followed in the case of policy towards Unesco.

Only one government department, the Department for International Development, for example, is prepared to make a significant contribution to the cost of servicing a national commission, they point out.

The Department for Education and Employment had agreed to pay for the work of a separate committee in its field, but not help towards common costs. And while the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had offered a "token contribution" of 5,000, other departments - including the departments of trade and industry and of the environment - are refusing to contribute at all.

"The national commissions of all our European Union partners have always been fully funded by government," the two authors say in their letter to Cunningham. "There are real policy issues of policy coherence which urgently call for your involvement."

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