Too much of Britain’s aid money is wasted, stolen or spent on inappropriate projects, the new minister overseeing the UK aid budget has declared, as she served notice of plans to take an approach based on “core Conservative principles”.
In advance of her first appearance before MPs on the Commons International Development Committee, Priti Patel pledged to “challenge and reform” the global aid system in a statement of intent apparently composed very much with long-term domestic critics of aid spending in mind.
“As secretary of state for international development, my objective will be to challenge and change the global aid system so that it properly serves the poorest people in the world and the taxpayers who foot the bill,” she wrote in an article for Wednesday’s Daily Mail.
The UK’s new aid minister has promised to keep the country’s aid target of 0.7% of GDP, despite herself once campaigning for the Department for International Development (DfID) to be shut down.
Concerns among some in the NGO and aid community that her appointment may herald a more hostile change of direction will also not have been alleviated by her statement that “some participants in the aid debate are resistant to criticism and sometimes unwilling to understand or even acknowledge genuine concerns”.
Nevertheless, Conservative MPs who have been hoping that her arrival would herald a speedy overhaul of the UK’s commitment to spend 0.7% of national income on aid are likely to be disappointed by Patel’s pledge to honour pledges on development in the Tory manifesto.
She went on to add that she will “ask the tough questions and provide a fresh pair of eyes”.
“My approach will be built on some core Conservative principles: that the way to end poverty is wealth creation, not aid dependency; that wealth is ultimately created by people, not by the state; that poor countries need more investment and trade, not less.
“And that we need to empower the poorest to work and trade their way out of poverty, not treat them as passive recipients of our support.”
The MP, who was a prominent referendum campaigner for the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, also drew a link between her new role and the post-Brexit geopolitical landscape sketched out by many Brexiters.
Stating that she did not see her new job “as just about aid”, Patel wrote: “We must seize the opportunity of leaving the EU to expand free trade with those who need it most, to boost investment in the poorest countries and to forge new alliances with the world’s emerging economies.
“And, of course, I want to use our greater freedom from leaving the EU to deliver better value for UK taxpayers.”
Kate Osamor, the shadow international development secretary, has said that Patel’s appointment was “another grim reminder that knives are being sharpened on the aid budget under this Tory government”.
The International Development Select Committee, which will question Patel on Wednesday, also includes Labour MP Stephen Doughty, who has accused Patel of having “a malign rightwing agenda to scrap and undermine our support for the world’s poorest people”.