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Fri, 5 June 2020

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Absorbing DfID into the FCO would dilute the effectiveness of UK aid

Absorbing DfID into the FCO would dilute the effectiveness of UK aid

| PA Images

3 min read

I have no issue with examining foreign policy. What concerns me is the timeframe. The International Development Committee must have a voice in the Government’s Integrated Review.

Last month, the Government unveiled its Integrated Review of security, defence, development and foreign policy – “the biggest foreign policy review since the Cold War”.

I agree that it’s important to review systems to make sure they are delivering value for money and meeting their strategic objectives. However, from the perspective of development and the future of the Department for International Development (DfID), it all seems rather hasty and as if key decisions have already been made.

DfID has been subject to increased scrutiny in recent years, as has the UK aid budget as a whole, but we cannot lose sight of why we are committed to delivering aid.

The whole concept boils down to helping the poorest, most vulnerable, most marginalised people around the world. It involves pre-empting humanitarian crises and establishing how communities can enjoy sustainable growth and become self-reliant. These activities can deliver significant benefits for the UK in terms of influence, leadership and “soft power”.

The World Bank estimates that 736 million people live in extreme poverty, and we have a duty to work to eradicate this – as expressed in the international community’s sustainable development goals.

This work includes a variety of strands – funding life-saving vaccines, building schools, connecting water supplies to remote villages, and tackling discrimination and violence against women and girls – all of which transform lives.

The UK Government has shown its commitment to helping people through aid projects such as these, and it is welcome news that its commitment to the 0.7% of gross national income aid target seems unwavering.

It would be of huge concern if the effectiveness of UK aid was now diluted, and our existing soft power eclipsed, by continuing down the route of DfID being absorbed into the Foreign Office. 

The two departments now share ministers and, reportedly, in-country reporting lines to ambassadors. However, we cannot ignore that, at the core, the two departments are very different beasts; political diplomacy on the one hand, and the delivery of humanitarian and development programmes on the other.

The International Development Committee (IDC), which I chair, is conducting an inquiry into the effectiveness of UK aid, and we will be seeking to unravel some of the key issues facing the Government as it reviews the UK’s global-facing policies. These findings will form the committee’s response to the review.

Over the next couple of months, we will be considering what counts as aid, who is accountable for UK aid, and comparing how transparent DfID is in its aid spending compared to other departments. We will be looking at how to define the “national interest” and how that should influence aid spending, and how official development assistance is administered elsewhere in the world.

One would hope that all these areas will also be considered in depth as part of the Government’s Integrated Review.

I have had concerns in the past with the lack of transparency around some aid programmes. A huge amount of taxpayers’ money is spent on development, and it is only right that we ensure the public trusts where that money is going and that it is delivering impact.

 

Sarah Champion is Labour MP for Rotherham and chair of the International Development Committee

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Foreign affairs