Last week saw the publication of the International Development Select Committee report looking into DFID’s Annual Report & Resource Accounts for 2009-2010. It offers a valuable insight into the key policy areas the coalition government wishes to pursue going forward.
Some of the main policy areas it touches on include; a major push for efficiency, which will see DFID become the most cost-efficient development organisation in the world; the establishment of a new aid watchdog, the Independent Commission on Aid Impact (ICAI), which has been set up to evaluate UK aid projects and programmes; and more work with fragile and conflict affected areas.
Greater Efficiency and Greater Effectiveness
The Report begins by expressing the Committee’s support for the coalition Government’s commitment to meet the UN agreed target of 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) for Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) by 2013 which was put in place by Labour. Unfortunately, the government hasn’t yet taken the final step and given a timetable for enshrining this commitment in law. That is what Labour and our campaign for international development must continue to keep pushing for.
The Government hopes to see DFID becoming the most cost-efficient development organisation in the world, by reducing its running costs to 2% of its total budget. This is to be done through cutting DFID’s back office costs and increasing spending through multi-lateral organisations. Although, the Committee’s Report welcomes efficiency, it is imperative that we do not compromise our long term strategic goals and objectives.
As a Select Committee, no matter where we go or whoever we meet, we are always being told that DFID’s greatest assets are its staff. I sincerely hope that the Governments efficiency drive will not undermine the fantastic image that DFID staff project of the UK all around the world and more importantly the incredible work of vital frontline staff.
A new aid watchdog, the Independent Commission on Aid Impact (ICAI), has been established to evaluate UK aid projects and programmes. The ICAI –which will be accountable to Parliament through the International Development Select Committee – builds on foundations laid out by Labour in Government, and should ensure that money being spent overseas is effective.
Where should the focus be?
At a time when 32 out of the 34 countries furthest away from reaching the Millennium Development Goals are in or emerging from conflict it is right to focus aid on such areas. The Report therefore welcomes the increased priority being awarded to working with these areas as part of a broader development and conflict prevention/resolution agenda.
However, it issues a cautionary note to the Government in the need for it to recognise the challenges that may arise in redirecting assistance from countries with good governance – where aid is likely to be better spent – to countries that are conflict affected where corruption and bad administration often mean the impact is more difficult to manage and even more difficult to measure. This is important at a time when the Government is keen to ensure the effectiveness of aid.
Currently 90% of DFID aid goes to low income countries, many of which are graduating from low income to lower-middle income country status. To support sustainable growth and development, and ensure earlier work is not wasted, we cannot afford to overlook the need for providing ongoing support for these countries, where the prevalence of poverty in the general population remains high. DFID should ensure they continue to focus on the people most in need, not just the countries most in need.
We must now press the government to enshrine the 0.7% commitment in to law, and we must provide strong scrutiny to ensure that defence or diplomatic spending is not compromised by being claimed as ODA. Working with the Shadow DFID team and LCID we must ensure Labour remains the leading voice for development.