Union leaders have expressed anger after the British Council announced plans to offshore 85 IT jobs.

The news marks the first time the civil service has directly offshored posts as part of cost saving attempts, media outlets reported today.

The British Council is considered an agency, or quango, which receives a grant from the government. But while it is not a government department, the news has prompted fears that departments will follow suit and offshore IT roles.

Nevertheless, so far no such plans have been announced.

The British Council is “consulting with staff and the unions on proposals to improve the quality and cost effectiveness of IT work”, the agency said in a statement. “The transformation programme will create leaner, lighter administrative and back-office functions, and more effective global support services.”

The agency was “not immune to the external financial pressures facing everyone”, it said. It also faced a drop in the amount of government grants it received, and a declining spending power overseas owing to a fall in the value of the pound.

The Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents staff at the British Council, said the news was an “absolute disgrace”. It told The Times newspaper today that the offshoring contradicted prime minister Gordon Brown’s determination for “British jobs for British people”, and was unjust in a recession.

A spokesperson at the union said: “The British Council is an educational and cultural organisation to support British culture, but a big part of this organisation is now going to be based abroad.”

The offshoring plans at the British Council form part of 500 job cuts across different roles in its UK offices, taking place over the next two years. Non-IT changes will mainly involve the elimination of roles rather than offshoring.