Plan to align UK aid with trade policy could sideline poor countries

A portable latrine cover for the poorest countries, made by a UK manufacturer and on display at the AidEx trade fair in Brussels, which may be under threat from a move to direct aid at middle-income countries. [Matt Tempest]

UK aid will be more closely allied with trade policy after the British government signalled a new approach to development assistance that may risk sidelining poorer countries. EURACTIV’s partner The Guardian reports.

Two long-awaited reviews published on Thursday (1 December) promised to change the focus of British aid, with the government pledging to do more in fragile and conflict-riven states and to expand work across the “arc of instability” that bends from north Africa to the Middle East.

MPs on the parliamentary watchdog tasked with scrutinising the use of British aid noted “a more overt link between the UK’s aid and trade policies” through a £1.3bn “prosperity fund”. They said this could lead to more development assistance being directed to middle-income countries, such as Mexico, India and China.

The reviews published by the Department for International Development (DfID) offered a twofold evaluation, the first focusing on funding for multilateral organisations such as the World Bank as well as smaller organisations, while the second examined bilateral aid to individual countries.

The development secretary, Priti Patel, who has in the past been highly critical of British aid, wrote in a bullish foreword to the bilateral review: “To those who doubt the ability of our aid to make a difference: tell that to the millions of children protected from paralysing polio by the British taxpayer, or the millions of Kenyans whose lives have been transformed by mobile money invented with British assistance, or the people of Sierra Leone who are getting back to their daily lives, free from Ebola after UK intervention.”

UK aid minister promises to keep 0.7% target post-Brexit

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.

Patel pledged to continue the work of her predecessor, Justine Greening, on supporting women and girls. But the new minister, who earlier this year promised to overhaul foreign aid based on “core Tory values”, also unveiled plans to “turbo charge” her department’s work on trade, welcoming what she called “an opportunity to forge a new role for ourselves in the world, embedding development within UK trade policy”.

The bilateral review announced that the CDC, the controversial private sector arm of the UK’s aid programme, will be at the heart of a push to accelerate the role of private investment. On Monday, the state spending watchdog accused CDC of failing to demonstrate adequately how its investments improve the lives of the world’s poorest.

The review of multilateral agencies, which account for more than 40% of DfID’s funding over the past five years, said the system as a whole was “falling short” of its potential, because agencies and the “wider UN family” are not working together. The review said the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation was in need of “dramatic improvement”, while the Commonwealth Secretariat also required “urgent organisational reform”.

UK development minister challenged over ‘wasted aid’ claim

The new minister in charge of Britain’s overseas aid budget faced criticism on her first appearance before a Commons committee when she was unable to come up with a figure for the amount of aid that was being “wasted and stolen” – after publicly highlighting it as a significant problem.

Irina Bokova, the director general of UNESCO, said she was “deeply disappointed” by the DfID review. “This report is based on a flawed methodology, which misunderstands – if not ignores – UNESCO’s policy support role, and its normative and standard setting mandate as a specialised agency of the UN, and which misrepresents and underestimates its achievements,” Bokova said.

“I am concerned that the feedback given by Unesco on a number of occasions has not been taken into account in the assessment.”

The bilateral aid review emphasised efforts by DfID to address conflict. It noted that the department is “scaling up investment” in north-east Nigeria, and supporting attempts to strengthen the national police force in Somalia as well as the Somali National Army with a view to providing security against militant groups including al-Shabaab, and reducing poverty.

Concerns have been raised in parliament over the transparency and accountability of the £1.3bn conflict, stability and security fund, overseen by the National Security Council. Sir Mark Lyall Grant, the prime minister’s national security adviser, was this week asked by MPs to disclose details of the fund’s spending, at a hearing of the joint committee of the National Security Strategy inquiry into the fund.

Labour MP Stephen Doughty, a member of the international development committee, accused Patel of seeking to exercise a sleight of hand that would shift aid away from some of the poorest recipients of UK assistance.

“There are stealthy efforts revealed by Priti Patel to divert our aid to richer countries like China, Mexico and India to sweeten relationships and to wrongly divert billions to a private equity arm that invests in tax havens, private schools and private hospitals,” said Doughty.

The World Bank, the Global Fund and Gavi, the global alliance for vaccines and immunisation, were ranked “very good” by DfID’s multilateral aid review. This was reflected in increased UK support for the Global Fund, which the review said had helped save 20 million lives, from £800m to £1.1bn. Future UK funding to the World Bank will be announced shortly.

The review assessed 38 agencies, all of which receive more than £1m annual core DfID funding.

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