IDC Philosophy and Culture Inquiry: FCDO submission for pre-ToRs stage

We welcome the IDC’s inquiry into the Philosophy and Culture of Aid, and we are grateful for the opportunity to contribute at this early stage. We have kept this initial response brief and focussed on the areas the Committee have identified: why countries fund development assistance, the benefits of having a development budget, and the challenges and problems facing the sector. We look forward to engaging further with the inquiry as it progresses.

In his appearance before the IDC in January, the Foreign Secretary made it clear that he welcomed the critical, evidence-based assessments that the IDC provides, such as its recent report on tackling sexual exploitation and abuse in the aid sector. As the IDC is aware, he will lead a cross-departmental review on a new International Development Strategy to ensure close alignment of UK aid with the objectives set out in the Integrated Review.

Why the UK funds development assistance and the benefits of having a development budget

The UK is one of the world’s leading development actors and one of the largest providers of Official Development Assistance (ODA), well above OECD averages. We remain committed to the global fight against poverty, to achieving the SDGs by 2030 and to maintaining the highest standards of evidence and transparency for all our investments.

UK aid underpins the government’s commitment to be a force for good in the world. The UK is a problem-solving, conflict-resolving global partner. Our approach to development focusses on long-term partnerships and solutions, and on the integrated use of all our foreign policy tools. ODA is a vital, essential, and indispensable element of that strategic approach. But, to maximise its effectiveness, it must be used in combination with our development policy expertise, our security deployments and support abroad, and strengthened global cooperation through our diplomatic network. We make our aid go further by bringing it together with all these other elements, and by making sure that they are all aligned and pushing in the same direction.

Aid is a key component of our leadership in helping to achieve the SDGs, and part of the integrated international capability we need to support British interests. It addresses shared challenges from climate change to health security; supports stability and a safer security environment for all; helps private sectors to flourish and integrate into a global economy in which the UK can thrive; and helps civil society organisations within open societies to hold their own governments to account. The seven priorities of the ODA Strategic Framework, announced by the Foreign Secretary in November 2020,[1] and reiterated through the Integrated Review, address the global challenges to which the UK can make the most difference within the overarching pursuit of poverty reduction. Our expertise and our standing in aid and development, as well as our convening power and diplomatic capabilities, allow us to partner with developing countries and influence the development resources and efforts of other donors, whether bilaterally or through the leadership role we play in parts of the multilateral development system.

UK aid helps to sustain deep, modern, long-term partnerships with developing countries. Those relationships are not defined by a dependency between donor and recipient: they are grounded on mutual understanding and interest, working together to build resilient and productive economies and open societies. Mutual benefit is derived not from an outdated approach towards conditionality but from committed and lasting partnerships, differentiated according to shared development challenges, the UK’s expertise, and to what we and our partners want from the relationship. The Foreign Secretary spoke to the Committee in January about his recent visit to East Africa and the value attached by our partners to the UK’s integrated role across the region on trade, development and poverty reduction, security, and investment. Our long-term approach to development, expertise and the integrated use of our foreign policy tools also strengthens our relationships with developed countries as we endeavour together to promote global goods and address shared challenges.

Challenges and problems facing the sector

We would welcome the committee’s view on the challenges and problems facing the development sector.  The aid ecosystem, of which the FCDO is a part, must reflect changing contexts, empower communities, and achieve the best possible impact. We would welcome further views from the committee on:



As a part of the aid sector, the FCDO is taking steps to ensure our approach both maximises our impact on development outcomes and drives up standards of delivery across the sector. The Foreign Secretary has set out to Parliament the steps the FCDO is taking to improve the quality of aid across government: making the allocation of ODA more coherent across departments; judging all programmes against their fit with strategic objectives and evidence of impact; and revising our operating model to allow greater flexibility in our use of delivery mechanisms rather than relying on large contracts with consultants.

[1] The strategic priorities, as the Foreign Secretary notified the IDC in November last year, are climate and biodiversity; Covid and global health security; girls’ education; science and research; defending open societies and resolving conflict; humanitarian assistance; and promoting trade and economic growth.