The new FCDO must retain Britain’s position as an international development superpower
Parliament should retain the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI), a Conservative party innovation, which scrutinises aid spending and helps maintain transparency, writes Ryan Henson and Laura Round | PA Images
The new Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO) will tackle both the root causes of poverty and counter authoritarianism.
Britain’s international development expertise makes Britain and the world safer, stronger, and more prosperous.
The success of the new Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO), announced by the Prime Minister in June, and due to officially launch on 1st September, will depend on the extent to which Britain’s world leading reputation as an international development superpower, is retained within the new department.
The world is changing. Democracy and human rights are increasingly threatened, and yet our history shows that Britain can make a difference.
The UK’s membership of the UN Security Council, NATO and The Commonwealth, means we are uniquely placed to help shape the world around us, particularly in emerging and fragile states.
The Government was right to respond swiftly following the deadly explosion in Beirut, announcing £20 million of funding to help provide food and support to the most vulnerable in Lebanon. But we must continue to act before disasters hit. Countries need support to help move through the stages of development - not just to lift individuals out of poverty, but to help local businesses seize the opportunities from free trade and investment too.
But trade and investment alone will not be enough. International companies will not invest in areas where schools aren’t providing a basic education to the local workforce.
The faster we equip communities with basic education, basic healthcare, and clean and sustainable sources of employment, the less need there will be for overseas aid in the long term.
Without basic healthcare, communities and individuals will be prone to illness and disease. Regular sickness or injury can deplete a workforce and halt economic growth. Without jobs people will struggle to care for loved ones and contribute little to nothing in local tax revenues. That means poor or non-existent health and education services, and so the cycle continues.
Focusing aid spending on poverty elimination is therefore not just the right thing to do, it makes sound economic sense for all involved too. The faster we equip communities with basic education, basic healthcare, and clean and sustainable sources of employment, the less need there will be for overseas aid in the long term.
We also need our aid money to have the maximum possible impact, therefore every pound of taxpayers’ money must be spent as effectively as possible.
We must seek to help as many people as we can, and we must show the taxpayer that their money could not be better spent. Parliament should therefore retain the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI), a Conservative party innovation, which scrutinises aid spending and helps maintain transparency.
To spend aid money as effectively as possible, there should also be a Chief Secretary for Development at the FCDO, with a seat at Cabinet and the National Security Council. The Chief Secretary could drive maximum aid value across Whitehall and support the Foreign Secretary to ensure that every penny of taxpayers’ money was spent as effectively as possible, with maximum impact.
It is also in Britain’s national interest to have an orderly, rules-based international system for aid, rather than a global free-for-all.
That is why Britain should stick to the Official Development Assistance (ODA) rules. By doing so we ensure that the quality, poverty focus and value for money of other countries’ aid investments match our own high standards. We can also call out other countries whose ‘aid’ is poor quality or comes with other motivations.
The ODA definition is a lot broader than it may appear.
For example, 75% of all Government spending on the BBC World Service - a vital counter to misinformation campaigns undertaken in fragile states by rogue nations - is counted as aid. Reform could be pursued, for there is no reason why all multilateral peacekeeping contributions should not count as ODA rather than the current 15%. But if we abandon the ODA rules entirely, other nations will follow, and Russia and China will be able to claim global prestige by counting the money they spend on defence, as ‘aid.’
To be blunt, if we abandon the ODA rules, China and Russia’s ‘aid’ spend will receive far less scrutiny and increase their soft power output.
Britain has always been a force for good, transforming lives, unleashing opportunity, and creating enormous British soft power.
It is in our national interest to tackle the root causes of poverty, and counter authoritarianism, by standing up for the international rules-based system which Britain did so much to shape. The new Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office can do both.
Ryan Henson is Chief Executive at the Coalition for Global Prosperity. Laura Round served as Special Advisor at the Ministry of Defence, and the Department for International Development.