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The future for the UK’s world-leading Government humanitarian work is now in jeopardy

16 June 2020

Following the Prime Minister’s statement that the Department for International Development (DFID) is being incorporated into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), International Development Committee Chair, Sarah Champion MP, said:

“At a time when the future for so many people in developing nations has never looked worse, with existing challenges of violence, famine and disease compounded with the devastating effects of coronavirus, the PMs timing couldn’t be worse. The future for the UK’s world-leading Government humanitarian work is now in jeopardy.
 
“It is outrageous that after the Government gave assurances that its Integrated Review will be done in a proper fashion, with proper consultation, that the FCO has made a land grab for DFID.

“The International Development Committees review, showed it is abundantly clear that DFID is an incredibly strong and well-respected department internationally. DFID offers a vital life-line for so many people struggling around the world and is well-respected by NGOs on the ground, literally saving lives. We cannot lose sight of why we support other countries with Official Development Assistance; we help children access quality education, we boost healthcare facilities, we ensure people access justice and security.
 
“DFID’s work considerably increases the UK’s clout on the world stage – amplifying our voice in multilateral organisations and extending our diplomatic influence in country.
 
“We have received extensive evidence that merging foreign affairs departments and aid departments erode international reputations, and actually are so costly and disruptive there is very little benefit. In the cases of Canada and Australia, the mergers have not improved the quality of aid, and we have heard that the reorganisations eroded their soft power. Merging these departments may seem attractive short-term with possible administrative efficiency gains, but in the long run, we will have shot ourselves in the foot on the world stage.” 

Effectiveness of UK aid

During its inquiry on the Effectiveness of UK Aid, the Committee found that DFID has a clear focus on poverty reduction, which many other ODA spending departments across Whitehall do not. DFID also exceeds transparency targets and has specialist development expertise which has been built up over two decades.
 
The Committee has grave concerns about DFID being merged into the FCO, as how the two departments spend aid varies considerably. The FCO targets much of its aid spend to Middle Income Countries, rather than specifically targeting interventions towards the world’s poorest. Further, diplomats in the FCO cannot be mistaken for development project managers, raising concern of how development could work in practice within this model.
 
This was further supported during an evidence session with the Secretary of State for DFID, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, who agreed that the FCO and DFID do different things. She explained that the FCO has some very specific global leadership roles, whereas “DFID is all about delivery and strategic policy thinking”.

Notes to editors:

  • The Committee’s full report on its inquiry the Effectiveness of UK Aid is due to be published before the summer recess. 
  • The Committee’s announcement of its interim report into this inquiry can be found here: interim Report - release 
  • The Committee’s interim report can be found here: Interim Report
  • Key findings from the interim report were:
    o The case for an independent aid-giving department, with a Cabinet-level Minister leading its work, is imperative if the UK is to help end extreme poverty;
    o With expectations that COVID-19 will significantly impact developing countries in the coming months and years, the Committee would caution against restructuring the way UK aid is administered at this stage that might potentially impair the effectiveness of aid;
    o The International Development Secretary told the Committee that there has not been a regular ministerial review of ODA spend by Government departments since 2018. She also suggested that minister-led oversight for all Government ODA could be beneficial to ensure strategic and effective aid spending. The Committee agrees with this assertion and urges the Government to restore ministerial-led oversight of ODA spending budgets across Whitehall. Individual Government departments should also commit to improving transparency in their ODA spending;
    o the increasing spend of ODA outside of DFID, which now accounts for more than one quarter of all Government aid spend, has created challenges for its management. Concerns have also been raised that other Government departments are failing to target their aid spend sufficiently towards poverty reduction which could be addressed with improved oversight;
    o The Committee welcomes the commitment of the Government to continue spending 0.7% of GNI on ODA, and to adhere to the OECD’s DAC definition of ODA. However, it is imperative that the UK Aid Strategy is published in advance of the Spending Review to ensure the UK’s aid outputs are based on strategic planning rather than fitting around Whitehall budgets;
    o Adhering to the objective to reduce poverty, the Government should review the growth in ODA directed to middle-income countries;
    o The Committee advocates strongly for the retention of DFID, but if the Government should decide to make any changes to current systems and structures, it should present a statement to Parliament setting out an evidence-led rationale, quantifying expected costs and how intended benefits justify the costs;
    o While the Committee recognises UK aid often supports programmes in challenging environments, the Government must not be deterred from seeking to monitor and evaluating its impact.

Image: DFID