Fight still on to save UK aid department

Dfid getty

Charities and MPs say DfID must be saved - but Tory threat remains

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10th June 2020 by Graham Martin 0 Comments

Charities have welcomed calls to retain the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) – but have warned that its future could still be at stake.

A report from the House of Commons International Development Committee has recommended DfID be kept as a standalone ministry.

There have been fears since the Tory landslide in last December’s general election that prime minister Boris Johnson will merge it into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) after Brexit in a bid to re-focus the UK’s international aid budget and align it with UK foreign policy.

Aid charities are worried this could see aid spending cut and priorities changed for the sake of political expediency.

The department was separated from the FCO and given an independent remit in 1997 by the Labour government – but it has been a target of some Tory ideologues, not least the prime minister himself.

However, this week a report from the House of Commons International Development Committee said the government should retain DfID as a standalone ministry in order to preserve the integrity of the UK’s spending on international aid. 

It states: “This committee advocates strongly for the retention of the current standalone, ministry of state model for international development, with a Cabinet-level minister.”

The report welcomes the Westminster government’s commitment to continue spending 0.7% of gross national income on overseas aid – but it is concerned that  aid programmes administered outside of DfID are not “properly targeted towards poverty reduction or the most vulnerable people.”

Aid charities have been campaigning for DfID’s retention – and Scotland’s International Development Alliance welcomed the committee’s intervention.

Chief executive Jane Salmonson told TFN: “The Department for International Development has built a well-deserved reputation for the effectiveness and the transparency of the UK’s expenditure of Official Development Assistance. 

“DFID is clearly led by its mission to end extreme poverty but its future as an independent government department has been in doubt.”

However, she added a note of caution, saying that a major point of danger lay in a forthcoming review of departments, which has been temporarily paused do to the Covid-19 crisis.

She said: “The forthcoming integrated review of all outward-facing government departments, including the FCO, MoD and DFID, may still call for DFID to be subsumed with the FCO and for its decisions to be aligned with the FCO mission to project UK global influence and promote prosperity. 

“The International Development Committee is respected and influential and its report is excellent, but it may not be able to prevent the loss of DFID’s independence. If we want international development to continue to be done well and in pursuit of its poverty eradication priority, then we must continue to resist the reduction of DFID into a division of the FCO.”

Sarah Champion, the Labour MP and chair of the committee, said: “We are not convinced that all overseas development aid programmes administered outside DfID are properly targeted towards poverty reduction or the most vulnerable. 

“Given the size of the UK’s aid budget, it is particularly shocking that transparency remains a huge problem that government departments are failing to grapple.

“When work [on the review] does restart, we urge ministers to recognise DfID’s world-leading reputation, commit to its continuation as a standalone department and get a grip on oversight for government overseas development aid.”