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Tue, 29 September 2020

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Exclusive: Labour claims Boris Johnson's move to scrap aid department could have funded 2,000 nurses

Exclusive: Labour claims Boris Johnson's move to scrap aid department could have funded 2,000 nurses

Labour have hit out at the decision to merge the UK's aid programe into the Foreign Office (PA)

3 min read

Labour have accused Boris Johnson of a “counter-productive and wrong” move to scrap the UK’s aid department as they claimed its costs could have funded 2,000 new nurses.

Shadow International Development Secretary Preet Kaur Gill said the cost to the taxpayer of merging the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development (DFID) could reach at least £50m.

And the opposition argued the money would be better spent on prioritising healthcare during the coronavirus pandemic.

But a government source accused Labour of peddling "fantasy figures".

In June, the Prime Minister said the new Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office would give Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab control over the UK's £14bn-a-year aid budget, allowing him to "maximise British influence" around the world.

Announcing the new department, Mr Johnson said: "This is exactly the moment when we must mobilise every one of our national assets, including our aid budget and expertise, to safeguard British interests and values overseas.

"And the best possible instrument for doing that will be a new department charged with using all the tools of British influence to seize the opportunities ahead."

But Labour pointed to 2019 analysis conducted by the Institute for Government to assign an estimated price-tag to the merger.

According to the think tank, the direct cost of creating a new department can total around £15m, with further costs running as high as £34m due to a loss of staff productivity as they "adjust to the new organisation".

Labour said that estimated £50m bill could instead have been used to cover the salaries of 2,000 qualified nurses or to purchase 8.3m coronavirus antibody tests.

"The Government should be completely focused on getting on with its job of governing the country and steering us through the huge challenges we face," Ms Kaur Gill told PoliticsHome.

"Getting rid of an independent Department for International Development during a global pandemic is irresponsible, counter-productive and wrong.

"It is consistently rated as the most effective and transparent department at delivering real value for money for British taxpayers, whereas the Foreign Office routinely ranks far worse.

"At a time when we need the global health expertise to drive the global response to Covid-19 and avoid further deadly waves, abolishing the department will undoubtedly put the lives of people here in the UK and those abroad at serious risk."

But, hitting back, a government source said:  “These are fantasy figures from an opposition which can’t even work out what it’s own policy is on development, let alone work out how it would stand up for Britain’s interests abroad.”

'MAXIMISE OUR IMPACT'

The row comes after a wave of criticism from MPs and charities over the move, including from former Conservative DFID secretary Andrew Mitchell, who described the plans as an "act of vandalism".

Last month, a report from the cross-party International Development Committee, which scrutinises the work of the department, said the "impulsive" merger decision would be disruptive and lead to a lack of expertise.

The Labour chair of the committee, Sarah Champion, said the plan would leave the UK's international reputation "damaged beyond repair".

A Government spokesperson said: “Combining the development expertise of DFID with the diplomatic reach of the Foreign Office will maximise our impact and demonstrate the UK is a force for good in the world.

“The UK-hosted Global Vaccine Summit - raising $8.8 billion to immunise 300 million children and support the fight against Covid-19 - showed the life-changing impact our work can have in supporting the international recovery.”

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