The difficulty of being part of a political party is that sometimes you stand accused of being too tribal, too colour-blind, too willing to defend the party line. LCID it is not beyond criticising and critiquing the Labour Party’s own policy and record, but we will defend it passionately when we think it has come under attack unfairly.
Just before Christmas, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee released a report criticising Labour’s record on education spending.
As the report pointed out, DFID has focused on educational programs to improve and expand state primary school networks in 22 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia most of these have increased school enrolment from 50% or even lower to 70 to 90% and 14 on schedule to meet the UN MDG on education by 2015.
There is of course a major challenge for all those committed to education for all to ensure that the increase in the quantity of children receiving education is matched by an increase in the quality of education that they receive.
But despite huge and rapid increases in school enrolment in several countries supported by DFID, there has been no reduction in the levels of learning achievement – Tanzania is a case in point. That counts as a major achievement given that most new entrants are not only very poor but also often malnourished.
In addition, Labour and the DFID actively supported strategies aimed at strengthening achievement levels in countries such as Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, Zambia, Tanzania, and Bangladesh.
The criticisms laid out in this report must not be used as an excuse to reduce the amount of aid our country spends on supporting children to learn. Kids kept out of school by poverty tend not to learn very much.
In terms of the allegations regarding the Kenyan government, we know that the Labour team at the time took pretty tough and rapid action and were very careful with any subsequent budget support to Kenya.
Most importantly, whilst improvements can be made to UK aid, this report must not be used as an excuse to reduce budget sector support. Without national government-run health and education systems, free at the point of use, countries will never get the healthy educated workforce they need to lift themselves out of poverty (and reduce their need for aid).
Our national health service is the envy of the world – UK aid should support countries to develop their own national health services and national education systems. Before the election, we and others including UNESCO warned that Mitchell and the Conservatives favoured private education initiatives including vouchers schemes in their manifesto – let us be clear, the overwhelming evidence across the world is that public health and education services deliver best for poor people – and this report must not be used to try and justify otherwise.