From the British Ambassador

Much as I enjoyed John Phillips' swipe in the last issue of The Italian Insider at how the FCO has hammered another nail in the coffin of all that is holy and revered with the expat community, I feel I should say something to explain the thinking behind our 'new look' Queen's Birthday party.

 Mr Phillips lays the blame for such draconian belt-tightening at the door of Mr Cameron. Not so. In fact the FCO has been tightening its belt for much longer than that, not least since sterling took a tumble against the euro. We always strive to ensure we give the taxpayer good value for the money we spend.

 The headline of Mr Phillips' article, Dave Sours Expat Dolce Vita, virtually makes the case for me. Pampering an expat community in a Dolce Vita lifestyle is not what the British taxpayers expect us to be doing with public funds! In fact the QBP in any country has for some time ceased to be a jamboree for the expat community, but is used as a way of reaching out to those we want to influence, an event at which we can cultivate and engage with key contacts on the themes which reflect the priorities of the government of the day. The vast majority of invitees to the event are in fact Italian, not British.

 This year we decided to showcase British creativity and innovation, with several British fashion companies exhibiting, plus examples of high class art and music. This initiative was part of a global FCO communication campaign, with the emphasis on a sustainable and creative Britain, to get people away from the traditional image of the UK in the world. This seems particularly necesary in Italy, where any media attention on the UK too often focuses on the wacky or slightly crazy, or reinforces traditional stereotypes.

 Furthermore, the cost of putting on the event was a mere fraction of what it has been in previous years. You could say that the lamented absence of Stilton was symptomatic of a fresh approach. Instead of importing choice delicacies at enormous cost, the taxpayer paid not a single penny for all the food consumed on 9 June. This was done by the use of sponsors, one of which undertook to make their contrbution by organising and supplying the tableloads of goodies almost all sourced from close to Rome and which seemed to be much appreciated by all!

 As for the music, this year's choice fell on a rising star in the British musical landscape, Paloma Faith. Her performance was much more in line with a modern and innovative Britain and at a very affordable cost compared to that of shipping in an entire military band. Last but not least, the art exhibition set up by students of the British School at Rome and the live RAI broadcast from the residence, I am sure Mr Phillips will agree, contributed to making this year's event even more enjoyable, special, innovative and sustainable than previous ones.

 But I am all for preserving some fine traditions!

 If anyone knows of a Stilton producer who is willing to make a free contribution in a similar manner then please let us know and I am sure we will see a return of the famous cheese next year! We might even reinstate a bagpiper, if only to remind guests when it's time to go home.

From H.E. Edward Chaplin, British Ambassador to Italy

Published Aug. 14, 2010