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“False economy” of deep aid cuts in CSSF, as conflict and instability surge in MENA and Horn of Africa

20 September 2023

In a report today, the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy warns of the “false economy” of deep cuts to the aid-funded portions of the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF), which have shifted the emphasis of the Fund away from peacebuilding and conflict prevention. The cuts and change of focus are likely to impair the ability of the UK Government to anticipate conflict, prevent escalation, and respond effectively to areas of known instability across the world.

The CSSF was established to deliver a cross-Government response to challenges overseas that threaten UK national security, using both Official Development Assistance (ODA) and non-ODA funding. Reductions to the UK's aid budget have translated into deep cuts to the ODA programmes in the Fund.

CSSF initiatives have been deeply cut in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) - counter to the aims and potential of the Fund in a region with frequent and escalating conflict.  At the end of the 20/21, the CSSF programme in Sudan was closed "in response to ODA constraints". Programmes in neighbouring South Sudan and Ethiopia were also closed. North African countries such as Morocco saw CSSF ODA funding cut from £8.1 million in 20/21 to £2.5 million in 21/22, with its programmes subsequently closed in 2022/23.

The CSSF is now merging with other funds to form the new Integrated Security Fund (ISF), intended to create greater coherence between international and domestic work to tackle national security challenges. But the Committee says that the CSSF had developed a distinct identity as an agile and responsive fund, delivering international objectives set by the Prime Minister and National Security Council, and undertaking projects that other funders would often deem too high-risk. There is a risk that this will be diluted amongst other more disparate policy aims in the new Fund, and that domestic political pressures will take priority.

The Committee is concerned about the lack of clarity surrounding the transition to the ISF, as well as the further impact of this uncertainty on organisations currently implementing CSSF programmes. The report calls on the Government to maintain existing levels of transparency and evaluation, so that the impact of the transition to the new fund can monitored.

Chair's comments

Dame Margaret Beckett, Chair of JCNSS, said:

“Cuts to UK ODA have impacted parts of the CSSF at an extremely bad time. An agile, responsive fund is being effectively repurposed towards a focus on ‘hard security’. Deep cuts to programmes in the Middle East and North Africa and the Horn of Africa look particularly short-sighted and damaging, coming shortly before surging conflict, instability and catastrophic disasters in those regions.

Development and security used to sit evenly in the Fund, but deep cuts to the aid portion mean the security element is now dominant. Even in narrow economic terms, it is disproportionately more costly to deal with the consequences of conflict and instability than to address the challenges at source. Today, our response to the incomprehensible disasters unfolding in Libya and Morocco risks being hamstrung by the decision to reduce programmes so severely in the region.

There is a great risk that the changes to the CSSF will see it being diverted towards domestic political priorities. We seek an assurance from Government that it will maintain at least current levels of transparency, monitoring and evaluation in the move to the Integrated Security Fund, and we will continue to scrutinise the impact of the transition and the Fund.” 

Further information

Image: flickr