Lib Dems go AWOL on international development
The Coalition’s Programme for Government saw the good, the bad, and the ugly of the Tory and Lib Dem manifesto pledges on international development.
The Coalition’s Programme for Government saw the good, the bad, and the ugly of the Tory and Lib Dem manifesto pledges on international development. First the good; the Coalition are to continue much of the good work achieved under Labour, keeping the Department for International Development (DfID) as an independent department with cabinet representation, pledging to continue our international leadership in this area, continue debt relief, and sustaining action on the MDGs, including a continued focus on womens’ rights and tackling maternal mortality.
The commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income on overseas aid from 2013 and to enshrine this commitment in law (as Labour had pledged to do) is welcome – although there are concerns around the detail of this, as discussed below.
Furthermore, there is a welcome pledge to make the UK Trade and Investment and the Export Credits Guarantee Department become champions for British companies that develop and export innovative green technologies around the world, instead of supporting investment in dirty fossil-fuel energy production, as campaigned for by People & Planet.
However, whilst these commitments are encouraging, the same question marks that hung over the Conservatives’ manifesto hang over this programme, whilst there is a worrying absence of some highly progressive Liberal Democrat policies. As Left Foot Forward has previously outlined, there are concerns in the NGO community toward the Tories’ proposals to give the British public a vote in how UK aid is spent. The details of how this would work need to be outlined – as any such scheme should certainly not be at the expense of ensuring people in poor countries are in charge of their own development.
On climate change, the lack of any mention of climate finance is deeply worrying. The Conservatives have still refused to guarantee that any aid to help developing impacted by climate change would not be taken from the existing aid budget – whilst the Lib Dems are silent on a clear commitment they made in their manifesto (page 63) to ensure that “adaptation and mitigation measures are financed by industrialised nations on top of existing aid commitments”.
On the Robin Hood tax, the promise to tax banks is welcome but is far from the blueprint championed by the Robin Hood Tax campaign or the Lib Dems’ own pledge (page 62) to “bring forward urgent proposals for a financial transaction tax.”
And then there is the ugly. As Left Foot Forward reported on Tuesday, there is a worry that the promise to spend 0.7 per cent of GNI on aid will watered down through creative accounting.
The pledge to “stick to the rules laid down by the OECD about what spending counts as aid” is disingenuous – many NGOs are critical of the OECD’s laws, with organisations such as Aid Watch arguing that many EU Governments count non-aid items as aid in order to inflate their official aid figures. Out of the €50bn (£42bn) officially provided in aid by EU governments, €5bn (£4.2bn) is debt cancellation, €2bn (£1.7bn) are student costs and almost €1bn (£845m) are refugee costs.
Under Labour, 88 per cent of UK aid was spent though DFID. The Labour Campaign for International Development have written to the Chief Secretary of the Treasury to seek his assurance that the Foreign Office, Ministry of Defence and Home Office are not currently being asked to scrutinise their budgets for items that could be classified as Overseas Development Aid; furthermore, the Conservative manifesto (page 117) specifically pledged to “legislate in the first session of a new Parliament” to enshrine 0.7% in law and yet it was missing from the Queen’s Speech.
On Tuesday, aid campaigner Bono had said:
“The UK’s bipartisan commitment to development, and near fulfilment of its promise, stand out as achievements in these hard times.”
He’s right, but we must be cautious. Much of what is good in this Coalition programme is a continuation of what the last Labour government had already established. The Lib Dems going missing in action is a missed opportunity for some genuinely progressive policies. Many of the new Tory proposals are questionable; and the biggest question of all is whether Britain will meet its promises to the poorest or pull an accountancy trick through rebranding money from other departments as aid.