Read Harriet Harman’s letter to LCID’s members

When she was appointed Shadow International Development Secretary, we wrote to Harriet Harman, congratulating her on her new brief and telling her about our work. Harriet’s been back in touch with a letter addressed to all LCID’s members, making it her passion for development clear.

We are really excited about building on the great foundations that we made with the Labour Party over the last 9 months and we’re glad Harriet is as keen to work with us too.

Here’s her letter:

Dear LCID Member

I wanted to get in touch in my role as Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for International Development,  firstly to thank you for all your hard work to date and secondly to outline some of the areas we will be focusing ahead on going ahead.

As you know Labour has much to be proud of when it comes to international development. From tripling the international aid budget to our leadership at Gleneagles we put the UK at the forefront of the fight against global poverty and I am immensely proud of that.

In these difficult economic times and faced with this Government’s deep cuts to public spending it is more important than ever that we make the argument for international development. We cannot turn our backs on the world’s poorest – not only is it morally right to ensure everybody, no matter where they are born, can grow up free of poverty but it is in our national interest. I hope you as an organisation will continue to work to communicate that message.

Moving ahead we will be working to hold the government to account for their promises. We welcome the commitment they made in the Spending Review to reach the target of 0.7% of our GNI on Aid from 2013 but we are worried about how they will get there. That is why we will be calling on them to introduce legislation as soon as possible so there can be no doubt about their commitment.  We will also be urging them to make sure that poverty reduction remains at the heart of our development policy – that is the best way to ensure it is truly effective.

Finally, with the new United Nation’s Women’s agency we, as a party, have a real opportunity to support efforts towards greater gender equality. Of course there are many more areas of international development policy that we will be discussing in the months ahead and I look forward to engaging with you in those conversations.

Labour has a strong International Development team working in parliament. Mark Lazarowicz MP is our Shadow Minister of State, and Rushanara Ali MP is Shadow Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State. We all greatly look forward to working closely together with the Labour Campaign for International Development  in the future.

Regards

Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC MP
Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

The other conference. The one about global poverty.

by Steve Cockburn. First published for Progress Online.

Last week 100+ heads of state (and Nick Clegg) gathered for the UN Millennium Development Goals summit, to set out what they would do over the next five years to meet criticalpromises on poverty they made ten years ago, such as cutting by two-thirds the number of children dying before their fifth birthday.

Being there was not inspiring stuff. A 32-page ‘action plan’ agreed by over 190 states included pretty much no measurable actions. The resistance to incorporating human rights principles into poverty targets won out, and this time it wasn’t just rich countries to blame. And I think I spotted some people so bored they were tuning into the Lib Dem conference.

More prevalent than action was doublespeak. Ireland, for example, launched a new global strategy to tackle child malnutrition, receiving applause for announcing it was to increase the share of its aid budget for fighting hunger to 20 per cent. Everyone seemed to forget Ireland has slashed its aid budget by 25 per cent, meaning serious cuts in funding for everything else children rely on.

Similarly, the big news of the summit was the launch of a new Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health – much needed to improve efforts to end the preventable deaths of eight million children every year, as well 350,000 women in childbirth. A great plan that takes a broad and progressive approach to health, but funding announcements to implement it have so far flattered to deceive.

The UN did some sums to claim $40 billion was committed for the next five years by governments, NGOs and possibly your granny. Even if true it’d be a fraction of what’s needed to meet their promises, but in any case few people are in any doubt that this is largely recycled from funds already being spent or planned in this or other areas. If the National Audit Office wants to have a look at this before it perishes in the quango bonfire, it could keep itself in business for a while.

From a British lens, Nick Clegg’s first big moment on the international stage, and Andrew Mitchell’s at a major UN event, were neither disastrous nor remarkable. Their speeches were fine, and the financial commitments made commendable in comparison to others, but not particularly balanced. Taking a headline-driven approach to funding healthcare – ie. investing in programmes to prevent children dying from malaria, but not from malnutrition or diarrhoea – has delivered only patchy progress so far, and needs to stop.

Ultimately they went about their business but failed to decisively lead. No shocking leaders with pictures of Zimbabwean torture victims, nor getting into trouble for haranguing their US counterparts too strongly, like dear old Gordon. Nor the all-night sessions in Copenhagen, like our newly-anointed Ed.

Most significantly, they ignored the plea at the summit from Sarkozy and Zapatero to back a global tax on financial transactions to raise funds for poverty reduction – the Robin Hood Tax – something that could begin to make meetings like this a thing of the past, and something supported by Labour’s new leader, as shown in this video.

The offer was made, but Britain stayed silent. If the next big summit is to be more than speeches and canapés, we’ll need a lot more from our boys in blue (and yellow).

An Obama blockbuster, a Remastered Brown, and a Clegg B-Movie

First published on Left Foot Forward, the UK’s top left wing blog, where LCID is a regular contributor.

It is difficult to get excited about a United Nations summit on the Millennium Development Goals. Difficult when we know, before a single delegate set foot off the plane in New York, that the goals are massively off-track. Difficult when we know that, aside from the UK, the G8 is not meeting its commitments, and indeed dropped them altogether earlier this year.

Difficult when the only goal likely to be met – Goal 1 to halve extreme poverty – will be met on the back of China’s own development, not because of any help from, and often despite, the West. And difficult when the new promises look like old money repackaged, with the health strategy announced by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon is – according to Oxfam – only 23 per cent of what is needed to reach the three goals on health, women and children by 2015.

That said, there were undoubtedly positives to take from the summit. The calls by President Sarkozy of France and Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero for a tax on the financial sector to raise money for development were a ray of hope to Robin Hood Tax campaigners, who called on Germany and the UK to also back it.

President-Obama-UN-speech

Then there was President Obama’s barnstorming speech outlining the US’s new Global Development Strategy with a focus on sustainable economic growth, good governance, and mutual accountability on the part of wealthy and developing nations alike. After so much criticism of the US – the ‘Washington Consensus’ of neo-liberal ecnomics being forced on developing countries – this change in course by the US is truly welcome.

You can read the new strategy in full here, and for fans of Obama’s mastery of the spoken word it’s well worth a watch. Here are some of the best excerpts:

Put simply, the United States is changing the way we do business… For too long, we’ve measured our efforts by the dollars we spent and the food and medicines we delivered. But aid alone is not development… Instead of just managing poverty, we have to offer nations and peoples a path out of poverty.

“So we will seek partners who want to build their own capacity to provide for their people… Because the days when your development was dictated in foreign capitals must come to an end.”

He also highlighted the US’s new oil and mining transparency law – requiring all extractive industries registered in the US to reveal all the payments they make to governments around the world – and urged the G20 to “put corruption on its agenda and make it harder for corrupt officials to steal from their people and stifle their development”.

Gordon Brown was also in attendance in his new role as co-convener of the Global Campaign for Education, to “press, inspire and push” world leaders to take action, as he has done at so many summits in the past. The former prime minister told the BBC of his “anger” at the failure of rich nations to honour pledges to combat global poverty, and ensure every child has access to primary education.

He also told the Financial Times:

“As well as boosting jobs and gross domestic product, the evidence is clear that education combats malnutrition, maternal and infant mortality and HIV/Aids.”

In addition, Mr Brown attended the UN’s Broadband Commission, as part of the work he is developing with the founder of the world wide web, Tim Berners-Lee, to explore how broadband internet can transform development in Africa. The Commission is comprised of leaders such as Rwanda’s President Paul Kagme, leading businessmen such as Carlos Slim Helu, Mo Ibrahim (who is behind much of the roll out of mobile phones in Africa) and Richard Branson, economists including Jeffrey Sachs and experts in IT.

The commission released a report outlining the potential for broadband for development and to meet the MDGs, from its ability to generate jobs and drive economic growth, to pro-poor benefits such as helping farmers access market information and thus get a better price for their crop, to educational and health advantages as well. The Guardian criticism of the Commission – “when so many essential things are lacking” – misses the point; as Mr Brown outlined in his speech to the African Union in Uganda, support for broadband should be part of a new strategy for pro-growth, pro-infrastructure aid that is additional to aid to provide essential services.

Sarah Brown was also here on behalf of her White Ribbon Alliance organisation campaigning for maternal health. In addition to her advocacy at the summit, Mrs Brown also co-hosted a ‘Women: Inspiration and Enterprise’ symposium with Arianna Huffington and Donna Karan, where women from film, fashion, business and philanthropy will meet young women from the US, Africa and Asia to raise money and awareness for the campaign.

She told The Guardian:

“Women are at the heart of every family, every nation. It is mostly mothers who make sure children are loved, fed, vaccinated, educated. You just can’t build healthy, peaceful, prosperous societies without making life better for girls and women.”

The leadership of Team Brown of this, and at summits past, contrasts sharply with deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, who only attended for one day. We have previously reported our concerns that the Coalition would arrive lacking ambition, and sadly this proved to be the case. Of course, the coalition’s pledge to tackle malaria is welcome, but it is nothing new. It appears to be merely a re-announcement of longstanding Conservative policy announced three-years ago in a speech by George Osbourne in Uganda (read it here on the Conservative Party’s own website).

There were also question marks over where the money to pay for it would come from. As shadow international development Douglas Alexander told Left Foot Forward:

“[Clegg is] yet to explain how this input pledge of £500 million a year will not result in a diversion of funds from the fight against other diseases like HIV/AIDS, or from helping to make healthcare free for the poorest people in countries like Sierra Leone.”

Questions grow over DfID’s ‘ring-fenced’ budget

Rumours over the security of DfID’s budget have been mounting over the last few weeks. Today in the Guardian, Madeleine Bunting raises questions over the pressure coming from the Right for Cameron’s government to change their approach to the international development budget.

The Coalition Government came to power promising to ring-fence international development spending, yet doubts have already begun to emerge over the ways in which money will be spent and, now, whether the pressure to cut will overwhelm Cameron and his team.

Such a move would not only run counter to 13 years of progressive aid policy, but jeopardise the UK’s reputation as a leader in international development.

Interestingly, Bunting notes that:

“The best defence of DfID he can’t – won’t – use. It’s a department which went from strength to strength under a succession of passionately committed ministers under Labour and, now not only has a much bigger budget than the Foreign Office but has assumed much of the prestige and status, both at home and abroad, of its former parent department. Last week the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) gave a stunning end-of-term report, praising DfID for its “capable, mission-driven and decentralised development ministry … [it] makes continuous efforts to improve its efficiency and effectiveness”, and has achieved “national and international recognition for its professionalism and ability to deliver its aid programme”.”

Voices from the Right might, therefore, win over. But this will be nothing short of a betrayal of the world’s poor. The truth of the matter is:

“DfID can point to a string of achievements. British aid pays for 5 million children in primary school, a comparable figure to the number of British primary school children for a fraction of the cost, just 2.5%. Or take the much smaller but fascinating example of M-Pesa, the mobile phone money-transfer scheme launched by a £1m DfID matching grant with Vodaphone. In its first three years in Kenya it expanded to 8 million users; now it is being adopted in countries all over the world, including Afghanistan, to transfer small amounts of money for those who don’t have sufficient resources to be served by the formal banking system. DfID has dozens such stories of how aid has to be part of any sensible strategy for Britain’s role in the world, trying to help countries break out of a poverty trap to achieve prosperity and stability. The sums involved are tiny: DfID’s total budget is £7bn, only 2% of total government spending; it’ a fraction of what the country spends on gambling, alcohol or defence.”

Calls to scrap DfID’s budget, or the Department itself, have come from some notable Tory grandees, but they are, quite simply wrong. Andrew Mitchell would do well to ignore them. 

You can read the article in full on The Guardian website.

UPDATE: There is a second article in The Guardian today calling on the Government to protect aid. According to Larry Elliott, Labour’s legacy is strong: “It was not just that Labour worked hard at home and abroad to push for debt relief and a doubling of G8 aid, it was also that Brown and Tony Blair changed the political weather when it came to development.”

The coalition in development: a bluer shade of green

First posted on Progress Online as part of Steve’s regular column.

Photo

The Lib Dems have not fought the corner of international development – they are absent from DfID and big ideas such as the Robin Hood Tax have been dropped

When analysing the influence of the coalition partners on their joint programme for international development, we don’t need The Guardian’s brilliant analysis of the coalition colour schemes. Whereas the overall pea-green agreement was deemed in this analysis to be more Liberal than Conservative (based on hue, not policy), the realm of global poverty seems to be true blue territory.

Blue doesn’t mean all bad, but nervousness abounds. Whilst the coalition agreement did promise to bind into law the commitment to provide 0.7 per cent of GNI in aid, and included positive commitments like support for an Arms Trade Treaty, such legislation was conspicious by its absence in yesterday’s Queen’s Speech. This is despite an explicit manifesto commitment from the Conservatives that they would do so in the first session.

DfID do claim they still plan to do this in future legislative sessions, but by falling short at the first hurdle questions are bound to be raised, not just at the Conservatives, but at the coalition’s self-styled ‘good cops’ too.

Lib Dems have long evangelised about development, but by failing to demand a ministerial post – an honour shared with only DEFRA, Culture, Media and Sport, and the Wales Office – it does mean that there is no coalition partner keeping an eye on how aid money is counted and how it is spent.

Worries exist that departments are looking for expenditure to be redefined so that it counts towards the aid budget. Items such as looking after (and even repatriation of) refugees or providing university scholarships to UK institutions are all permissible under loose OECD regulations defining what can count as aid, even if they bear little resemblance to what most people would understand by the term. Creative accounting would help the coalition keep its promise on paper, but it wouldn’t be of much use to poor communities on the ground.

The Lib Dems not only lack any ministerial post, they have also failed to include any of their distinctive policies that could have added a more progressive edge to the coalition agreement. No Robin Hood Tax to stabilise the banks and fund poverty reduction, no clear commitment to crack down on tax havens to tackle corruption and prevent capital flight, and no promise that the funds needed to help countries adapt to climate change will not be taken from the aid budget.

These are potentially big concessions. Climate change funding could dwarf the aid budget if not ringfenced, capital flight can be more debilitating than aid shortfalls, and the Robin Hood Tax could have added a genuinely radical and innovative solution to heal financial fissures at home and abroad.

And nor will the Lib Dems be in a position to ensure the UK’s position in trade deals are fair and progressive, nor demand the new National Security Council does not lead to development policy serving foreign policy aims rather than poverty reduction, nor press for the global leadership role played by successive prime ministers and secretaries of state over the last 13 years.

Which begs the question, why did they not fight a bit harder for the cause of global poverty, and what’s the point of a good cop if you’re not in the interrogation room when the important questions are being asked?

 Steve Cockburn is an anti-poverty campaigner and member of Labour Campaign for International Development

Letter to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury: UK spending on Overseas Development Assistance

Last week, the Coalition Government announced in it’s programme for International Development that it would “stick to the rules laid down by the OECD about what spending counts as aid.”

But 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. Under Labour, the UK was not one of them.

Ahead of tomorrow’s Queen Speech, we’ve written to the Treasury to seek their assurance that Britain’s ODA will not be watered down through creative accounting.

UK spending on Overseas Development Assistance

Dear Chief Secretary to the Treasury,

We welcome the commitment in the coalition agreement to continue this country’s path to spending 0.7% of GNI by 2013 on Overseas Development Assistance. We also welcome the decision to enshrine this level of spending in law.

However, we are concerned about the make-up of this spending commitment, particularly given that senior civil servants in the Foreign Office, Ministry of Defence and Home Office are currently being asked to scrutinise their budgets for items that could be classified as ODA. If the coalition were to meet their promised ODA increases through an accountancy trick then Britain will not have kept its promise to the world’s poorest people. Double-counting cannot be equated to a material increase.

On this point the coalition’s reference to spending within OECD rules cannot be seen as a reassurance. UK ODA has always been of a higher standard than the OECD require, and it should be a source of pride that we do not count items such as university scholarships and costs associated with immigration towards our ODA.

The reason this concerns us is that any significant decrease in the proportion of ODA that is controlled and spent by the Department for International Development would result in a watering down of the poverty reduction focus that has been so successful in recent years. Conservative estimates suggest that DFID’s work has helped place 40 million more children in school, lifted 3 million people per year out of extreme poverty and contributed substantially
to the expansion in coverage of vital HIV/AIDS drugs.

Therefore, will you please confirm that the amount of ODA spent though DFID will remain at the current proportion of 88%?

Yours Sincerely,

Labour Campaign for International Development

cc: Secretary of State for International Development
cc: Permanent Secretary, Department for International Development
cc: Shadow Secretary of State for International Development