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Greg Dorey


Part of UK in Hungary

20th January 2011

Transferring Know How

In my previous posting, I mentioned the informal meeting of European Union EPSCO (Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs) Ministers here earlier this week at the newly renovated Grassalkovich Royal Palace in Gödöllő. Discussion revolved around the question of what can be done to create jobs at a time of economic downturn. Earlier meetings between UK and Hungarian officials have made clear that the UK is acknowledged here for our innovative social and employment programmes. So this is clearly an area where we have something to offer. But how did we acquire this reputation? And when? The story goes back some 20 years.

From 1989, starting with Poland, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office operated a so-called Know How Fund (KHF) programme in the post-Communist bloc – Hungary’s programme started in spring 1990. (I was the fairly young Political / Economic First Secretary at the British Embassy in Budapest at that time and coordinated this work in the early days until we could get a full-time KHF officer into place.) In subsequent years the KHF became a well-known “brand”. The main aim of those running the scheme was to promote reform, while trying to ensure the stability and viability of societies already in transition.

The mid 1990s were the “golden age” of KHF. By then the country programme included a multi-year co-operation arrangement between the British Department of Work and Pensions and its Hungarian counterpart. For a few years the work was coordinated by a resident advisor from the UK, seconded to the Hungarian Ministry. The KHF facilitated adoption of a number of UK models in Hungary, including training for Employment Services and targeted employment programmes for disadvantaged groups such as the disabled and long-term unemployed. The Hungarians involved in those projects still remember them well. Quite a few models have been embedded in Hungary and proved sustainable – operating years after the UK-assisted pilots ended.

Another interesting snippet is that the current Hungarian State Secretary for Employment was involved in the KHF programmes as an Employment Service professional. So many years later, we found out at a meeting he held with visitors from the UK Department of Business Innovation and Skills last November that he still remembers the KHF pilots with particular fondness. This small example demonstrates the long-term impact that the goodwill generated by imaginative bilateral diplomacy (i.e. country-to-country relations) can have. This job is clearly a real people-to-people business. And it is good that doing something for real people – creating more jobs and growth – is back at the top of the EU agenda after a long period of institutional change.