Aid department safe for now - but doubts raised over minister

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Anne-Marie Trevelyan has previously expressed apparent scepticism about the value of foreign aid

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14th February 2020 by Graham Martin 0 Comments

The UK’s aid department has had a stay of execution – but the new person in charge is an aid sceptic.

Rumours have been rife that, now we’re post-Brexit, the Department for International Development (DfID) will be abolished and rolled into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

However, that has not yet come to pass – and the department has survived Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s latest Westminster reorganisation.

Despite that, some doubts have been raised about the new minister who became head of DfID as part of the Tory PM’s cabinet reshuffle on Wednesday.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, a former armed forces minister and staunch Brexiter, has previously expressed apparent scepticism about the value of foreign aid, according to The Guardian.

The newspaper suggested her appointment will “prompt fresh concerns that the department could become marginalised”.

She has used the hashtag #charitybeginsathome on Twitter and has said that “wasting cash” on “vanity projects in far-flung lands” keeps her awake at night.

However, her appointment was given a cautious welcome by some in the sector. Mike Noyes, deputy director at ActionAid UK, said: “At a time when disease, disasters and inequality are only becoming more rife, the role of DFID’s new secretary of state is crucial.

“Following our departure from the EU, what the UK stands for on the global stage is up for debate. The government must reinforce our position as a force for good and going forward, commit to spending aid not on furthering other department’s interests, but on supporting those most in need - especially women and girls.

“The new secretary of state must continue DfID’s world-renowned, life changing work and maintain its track record for spending UK aid money transparently and with accountability to both the British taxpayer and the communities being helped. 

“Whilst we’re pleased that DfID remains independent with its own Secretary of State, it’s important that the new minister is given enough time to make a real difference. This is the third change to the role in under a year - high turnover like this is detrimental to decision making and can ultimately have a grave impact on those in desperate need.”

Patrick Watt, head of policy for Christian Aid UK, added: “We hope this announcement signals a clear commitment to keeping DfID as an independent department, and isn’t a stay of execution.”

Scotland’s International Development Alliance has written to PM Johnson outlining its concerns about the abolition of DfID.

Trevelyan’s predecessor at DfID was Alok Sharma, who has become business secretary, a role which also makes him president of the COP26 climate summit, which is due to be held in Glasgow in November, and which will see him coming into contact with civil society.

There were some doubts raised about his experience for the role – which had previously been touted as going to a high profile individual.

Kat Kramer, also of Christian Aid, said handling the climate talks was a "delicate and grave task" made harder by the new appointment "coming in late in the process".

There were also worries, expressed by the likes of Extinction Rebellion, about his committment to climate crisis politics - and his previous voting record on environmental issues.

Meanwhile, also in the reshuffle, Oliver Dowden was appointed as the new culture secretary, overseeing the government department that holds responsibility for the voluntary sector in England and Wales.

As TFN published this story, there was as yet no indication whether a new minister of state for sport, media and creative industries – which also covers civil society – will be appointed.