Mitchell’s ‘ouput-based’ crusade risks trying DfID in knots

by David Taylor, for Left Foot Forward

Earlier today Left Foot Forward publishedleaked document from the Department for International Development showing a list of nearly 100 public commitments recommended for the chop. But behind the headlines, International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell’s “focus on outputs and outcomes” raises two key questions.

Firstly, if close to 100 ‘input’ based commitments are to be dropped – what are the ‘output’ based commitments that will replace them if DfID is to avoid failing its commitments to the world’s poor?

The Coalition Programme committed DfID to support actions to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by prioritising aid projects that ensured access to clean water, sanitation, healthcare, and education. Fast forward two months, and DfID is proposing to drop commitments to spend £8.5 billion on education, £6 billion on health, and £1 billion on water and sanitation. And not just ‘inputs’ too – output-based commitments to help 8 million children go to school in Africa and 55 million people gain access to water and sanitation too.

So how exactly is the Coalition to make progress on the MDGs in the absences of these commitments? The signs are worrying. The upcoming UN Summit on the MDGs should be an opportunity to continue Britain’s leadership in this area. Yet despite repeated questioning in Parliament, the Coalition has failed to set out clear red-lines and objectives for the Summit, merely talking about how they seek agreement on an ‘action agenda’. In a Parliamentary Answer Andrew Mitchell admitted that he and Nick Clegg have only met once formally to discuss the Summit.

Secondly, why the obsession with “outputs”, when DfID is already considered a world leader in aid effectiveness?

Just last month a major independent review by the OECD praised DfID’s effectiveness under Labour. It said:

“[DfID has gained] national and international recognition for its professionalism and ability to deliver its aid programme effectively…

“The UK performs well against the key aid effectiveness indicators … DFID’s ability to implement its aid effectiveness commitments is supported by its decentralised model, and by significant use of general and sector budget support.”

In addition, the One campaign’s 2010 Data report outlined that “the UK leads all other G7 countries on ODA [aid] effectiveness”.

The new Coalition government risk putting this leadership at risk. A move towards ‘results’ based aid may seem appealing as pressure intensifies to demonstrate value for money, particularly when the aid budget is growing whilst other departments are cut. But as NGOs including Save the Children have pointed out, this can actually reduce aid effectiveness:

“[Results based aid] works best for interventions that involve a discrete output, such as the construction of a road, and less well for more complex structural changes – like civil service reform – where judgements about progress are more subjective.”

Today’s leaked documents are deeply worrying. DfID’s recommendation to drop key commitments is bad enough – but Mitchell’s push for ‘results’ is a crusade against straw men that risks trying DfID in knots, reducing the effectiveness of UK aid and failing to achieve the one thing he seems to care about most – value for money.

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.”

Aid is a marathon not a sprint

Douglas Alexander writes in The Guardian today that ‘the coalition has failed to commit fully to international aid, yet it is a policy that remains morally right and in our common interest.’

“Instead of creating straw men to burn ceremoniously in an ill-conceived strategy to placate sceptics on the right of his party, Andrew Mitchell would do better to highlight and build upon what was working well and set out a positive, forward agenda – starting with the upcoming New York summit.

The best way to build common ground is to build on higher ground. That is the lesson of the real progress we have made over these last five years since Gleneagles.”

Foreign Office “planning a raid on DfID’s cash and on its turf”

The Financial Times website today carries a disturbing story on the future of DfID funding. This comes just weeks after an election when the now-Government pledged to ringfence DfID funding and that principle’s affirmation in the Coalition Document.

According to Sue Cameron at the FT, the Foreign Office is “planning a raid on [DfID’s] cash and on its turf.” She says:

“They talk of a “bleed” of Difid money to teams that include FCO and Defence Ministry people – not least in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. “Nothing will be taken out of the Difid budget,” one diplomat assured me. “It’ll just be spent on things over which Difid has no control.” And it is hard to see what Difid can do about it.”

LCID has already warned of the dangers of diverting DfID money that would better be spent on Overseas Development Aid, in a letter printed in the Guardian. Yet, Sue Cameron states that Andrew Mitchell, Secretary of State for International Development, is only free to act in his role “within the strategy set by Hague.”

Every penny diverted from poverty alleviation causes harm. It is becoming ever-clearer that the pre-election promise to ringfence the development budget was a false one. As the new Government’s policies come into action, LCID will be scrutinising them, to hold the Government to account on its poverty alleviation promises.

The full article can be found on the FT website.

By Tim Nicholls

Cuts to development education may increase public scepticism

First posted on Left Foot Forward.

Monday saw the first cuts at DfID were announced by the new Conservative administration, as new international development secretary Andrew Mitchell announced that projects designed to raise awareness of development issues amongst the UK public are to be scrapped.

He said:

“I’m surprised that Labour ministers thought these projects were the best use of British aid.”

Yet he has simply listed the projects to be cut without listing any explanation for their original rationale. DFIDIn fact, development education in the UK has been an important part of DfID’s programme from it’s creation. As we have reported previously, DfID’s first White Paper in 1997 established the Building Support for Development programme (BSD) which addressed the need for an:

“Increased public understanding of our global mutual dependence and the need for international development.”

Stalls at music festivals may sound frivolous, but they are a tool many development NGOs use regularly in order to engage with the UK public to raise support for their work and their campaigns. Is training nursery school teachers so that they can make children aware of the world they live in from an early age such a bad idea?

This follows articles in The Times and by the right-wing think tank IPN criticising the spending of aid in the UK, reported here previously. In DfID’s first White Paper the then Secretary of State Clare Short stated in the foreword the need for:

“An informed public opinion [to] help ensure that the UK plays its full role in generating the international political will necessary to meet the international poverty eradication targets.”

In the current climate the public naturally wants to see value for money from all public spending – but that cannot be used an excuse to cut development education, a key tool in generating that political will amongst the public.

NGO Experts say Tory claims on tackling global poverty ring hollow

As published in The Observer today

As practitioners in the field of international development, we write to challenge the claims that there is a consensus between the parties when it comes to tackling global poverty.

Take the issue of promises on aid. The welcome shift in Conservative policy to back the 0.7% promise in 2005 has been much vaunted by David Cameron, but despite repeated requests they have refused clearly to commit to ensure aid is not diverted for other purposes. Their commitment to the 0.7% target risks looking like political positioning rather than a serious commitment to tackling global poverty.

As concerning as how much the Conservatives will actually spend on tackling global poverty is how they suggest spending it. Access to basic services like health and education are basic rights. Conservative proposals to distribute vouchers for private schools in slums, to create an X-Factor-style competition to decide who gets aid, and a shift to private provision of healthcare, look like crude attempts to export failed ideological or populist policies, against the advice of leading practioners and aid charities.

Though we would much like there to be, there is no consensus on this issue. Instead, there is a serious choice about whether and how Britain should help the world’s poorest people.

Richard Bennett CBE

Former chair, Make Poverty History

Dr Ann Pettifor

Co-founder, Jubilee 2000

Lord Joffe

Former chair, Oxfam GB

Kel Currah

Former deputy director of advocacy, World Vision International

Why do the Tories want to copy Canada on International Development?

It would appear that the Tories are looking across the Atlantic for their ideas, but not to Washington and President Obama, but to Ottawa and the minority government of Stephen Harper.

Earlier this month shadow Tory minister for International Development, Andrew Mitchell praised the approach of the Canadian government to international development.

In an interview with the Guardian newspaper, he was quoted as citing ‘the work of the Swedish and Canadian governments and the approach adopted by George Bush’ as models he wanted to follow, saying that they provided examples of how right-wing governments we’re embracing the aid agenda.

But a quick look at the Canada’s record on international development since the Conservative government formed a minority government in 2006 makes for worrying reading.

It’s a story of unfulfilled election promises, putting economic interests ahead of poverty reduction and cutting funding to well-regarded NGOs who dare to speak out.

Despite former Canadian Prime Minister, Lester B. Pearson coming up with the idea of developed countries giving 0.7% of national income to international poverty, when he authored the ‘Partners for Development’ report in 1969. Even the most patriotic Canadian would find it hard to argue that the nation has ever been a leader, with level of ODA traditionally lagging behind those of others in the OECD.

But under the Liberal government in the early 2000s, the country saw increases it is ODA budget for a number of consecutive years, growing from $2.6 billion in 2000–2001 to $4.4 billion in 2005–2006. But that’s all been reversed since the Harper government came into power.

The independent Reality of Aid report in 2008 indicates that;

Canadian ODA performance has stagnated at 0.28% of GNI in 2007 and 0.30% 2008, with no plan for increases beyond 2010.

That after three consecutive budgets, it seems clear that the current Conservative Government is not living up to its election promises on aid made in January 2006. At that time, the Conservatives promised:

  • To honour all the commitments made by the then Liberal government (doubling Canadian aid between 2001 and 2010 with 8% annual increases to the International Assistance Envelope, and a $500 million one-off addition to aid in 2006 and 2007).
  • To put another one-off $425 million into the aid program before 2010.
  • To improve Canada’s ODA performance ratio to reach the average of OECD DAC countries, which according to the OECD DAC was 0.45% of GNI in 2007.

It’s a situation that doesn’t appear to be improving, with the Make Poverty History campaigning recently suggesting to its supporters that the country ‘was only aiming for a C in generosity, but was currently earning a D’.

On aid quality, despite the Canadian Parliament passing the Official Development Assistance Accountability Act (the Better Aid Bill), a groundbreaking piece of legislation which enshrined into law that the countries aid must be used to reduce poverty, take account of the perspectives of the poor and be constant with international human rights perspectives. However the Conservative government appears to set aside the law to pursue more politically expedient uses of its already limited aid budget.

Critics of the government have cited the decision to drop CIDA (the Canadian International Development Agency) funding in to seven African countries including Malawi, one of the world’s poorest countries, in favour of increasing support to middle income countries in the Americas and Africa as evidence of broader foreign policy interests.

Finally, recently the government has been embroiled in a scandal after suddenly cutting all of its support to Kairos, one of the countries biggest ecumenical human rights groups, with a 40 year record of working around the world, because CIDA didn’t believe it fits with its ‘priorities’ despite the organisations very work being consistent with much of the countries Better Aid bill.

By Tom Baker