With international aid spending ring-fenced, James Williams talks to the Department for International Development to discover their plans for how we spend money helping other countries
British aid trebled under New Labour, and both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats supported Labour's plan to raise aid to an estimated £10bn by 2013. Even the first paragraph on spending in the coalition agreement discusses the importance of protecting foreign aid. The coalition document agreed that the UK will give 0.7 per cent of gross national income towards international aid. However, this ringfencing has meant the Department for International Development (DfID) has had to seek substantial savings in the rest of its budget. The Treasury has decreed that savings in administration costs associated with aid delivery must be made. International Development secretary Andrew Mitchell explained: "We are going to look very carefully at every single programme around the world over the course of this summer."
Mitchell, and his DfID ministers Alan Duncan and Stephen O'Brien might be better off than colleagues in other cost-cutting Whitehall departments but there are still likely to be disagreements with the Treasury over the size of DfID's administration. Although their budget is rising, they may have less staff to deal with it.
A DfID spokesman explains that the department is currently conducting three separate reviews: a humanitarian review, a review of the bilateral aid programme and an internal review. The bilateral aid programme review will ensure that UK aid is targeted where it is needed most and will make a tangible impact on reducing levels of poverty. Additionally, the review will look at countries that no longer justify British aid.
A review of multilateral aid will begin immediately. Almost half of the UK's aid budget is currently spent through international bodies, such as the UN and the World Bank. DfID has admitted that it is "miles off course" when it comes to meeting the eight Millennium Development Goals, which include targets for improving education, nutrition and child mortality rates. In 2008/09, DfID spent £2.27bn of its budget through multilateral institutions. This included £574m through the World Bank and £252m through the United Nations. This figure increased to £3bn in the following 12 months. There are over 30 organisations that DfID currently funds and any that fail to meet the criteria, not yet set out, will have their funding lowered or stopped altogether.
International development minister Stephen O'Brien tells Total Politics: "We have already cancelled millions of pounds worth of UK-based projects, ended the allocation of taxpayers' money to China and Russia and ordered the reassessment of our work in all other countries." Elements of these cuts have been criticised by shadow foreign secretary David Miliband, who argued that aid should not be removed from Russia as it is still "riven with human rights abuses".
There will also be a review into how the UK responds to humanitarian emergencies. Paddy Ashdown will lead a taskforce of experts to review how the government impartially responds to natural disasters and how it works with international organisations to increase the efficiency of aid delivery and value for money. "Tragic events such as the Pakistan floods make this review all the more urgent," O'Brien agrees.
The European Commission is the world's second largest provider of humanitarian assistance. All 27 EU member states contribute to funding development programmes across 145 countries. DfID ministers are responsible for deciding with their partners how EU development funds should be used. Mitchell has called on all other EU nations to maintain their commitments to overseas aid despite the difficult economic times. He spoke of the "moral duty" which European nations have and said it was imperative they show "global leadership" by meeting their pledge of 0.7 per cent aid that all EU countries agreed to reach by 2015. Last year the EU only spent 0.42 per cent of its gross national income on aid and it is predicted that it will fail to reach an intermediate target of 0.56 per cent in 2010.
Now in Europe, many poor member states could see their current levels of aid from the UK either reduced or removed altogether. Albania has recently been reclassified as a middle-income nation, and therefore the UK now only supports their development through multilateral institutions such as the European Union. Since 2001, DfID has given around £30m to Serbia. This programme is now due to close in December of this year. And Moldova will no longer receive aid directly from the UK after March next year.
So although DfID and the new Conservative MPs that run it may have been given a higher profile through its ring-fenced aid budget, substantial savings will need to be made elsewhere within the department. O'Brien stresses that the government will "work doubly hard to ensure that every single penny is deployed to optimum effect". One cannot help but wonder if this language will be used by many other departments as they try to justify the cuts ministers are now obliged to make.
Interview: Henry Bellingham
The rhetoric from the Foreign Office is that new partnerships will be formed with other countries. Total Politics caught up with Henry Bellingham, the FCO minister with responsibility for Africa, to talk about what this means for our relationship with the continent
How does this government improve trade links with Africa?The government is providing a range of support to UK companies who are exporting to, or maintaining investments in Africa. We are supporting individual businesses in identifying which markets are suitable for them and helping them make the right contacts. Through DfID-funded and EU programmes, the UK is supporting initiatives to encourage enterprise, to develop strong governance and regulatory frameworks to provide confidence in the Rule of Law for businesses, and to bring about free trade across regions, and eventually the continent, based on the development of the Regional Economic Communities. I'm confident that with the strongly emerging economies in Africa and the strength of the British offer in working with them and supporting their democratic growth, we can do a lot together for mutual benefit.
The UK plans to give £4m in support of climate change and £6m to strengthen the Africa Union and the Economic Commission for Africa. Are these spending commitments sensible at the current time?Some of the countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change are in Africa. In Kenya, I saw first-hand how the country was struggling to cope with severe drought. Climate change threatens existing stability and efforts to reduce poverty and as resources become scarce and access to water becomes a source of tension in communities, the risk of insecurity throughout the continent becomes dangerously high. Many African nations lack the capacity or resources needed to adapt to these environmental changes, so it is right that we work with and support them. This is a time to reaffirm our promises to the world's poorest people, not abandon them. That is why we are maintaining levels of international aid and reconfirming our commitment to provide climate finance to the world's most vulnerable countries.
What is the greatest challenge for the UK's relationship with Africa currently?The greatest challenge is the conflict and fighting that continues to blight parts of Africa, while holding back the whole continent. Instability and violence in Somalia, across the Sahel region, and in the Democratic Republic of Congo continue to affect the economic development of these countries as well as their neighbours, particularly those land-locked states. The continent as a whole would benefit from trading links across the continent, if peace and security were consistently manifest, allowing for economic co-operation and investment in infrastructure.
This article was first published in Total Politics magazine