UK Foreign Secretary’s commitment to efficient foreign aid spending rumoured to be guise for slashing the budget

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Evidence-based recommendations to ministers, called for by the Foreign Secretary under new reforms to the independent body that scrutinises UK aid, are now expected to drive valuable development spending overseas. According to PM Boris Johnson, taxpayers in the UK are to see “maximum value” and more significant aid spending because of the reforms.

Following the merger of the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development, the Foreign Secretary has committed to ensuring that the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) will prioritise effective overseas advancement spending. The merger was announced in June 2020 as an opportunity for the UK to achieve greater influence on the world stage, as the country slowly recovers from the coronavirus pandemic.

The UK currently has a budget of £15 billion for foreign aid. Almost ten years after the ICAI’s inception, Dominic Raab has commissioned the review to certify that their methods and focus are effectively analysing UK aid spend. The practices should align with the aims of the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), which launches on Wednesday 2nd September.

Pawan Dhande, Senior Press Officer for the Department for International Development, told Eat News, “As the FCDO is formally launched, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has ordered a review into ICAI to ensure more effective and accountable aid spending. The review will look at how the Independent Commission For Aid Impact, the body responsible for overseeing government aid spend, can use rigorous evaluation and provide actionable recommendations for ministers, based on what the evidence shows is most effective for tackling poverty and global challenges like diseases, climate change and humanitarian disasters.”

Photo: Pav Dhande/Twitter

Under the new department, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson, has committed to giving UK aid new prominence within international policy. As a result, Dominic Raab will be given new powers to make decisions on aid spending in line with the UK’s priorities overseas, harnessing the skills of experts within the humanitarian field. Raab said, “We are integrating our aid budget with our diplomatic clout in the new FCDO to maximise the impact of our foreign policy. That’s why I want to reinforce the role of ICAI, to strengthen further transparency and accountability in the use of taxpayers’ money and relentlessly focus our Global Britain strategy on policies and in areas that deliver the most value.” The Foreign Secretary said he wants the ICAI to become a committee for what works in development.

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The review is expected to scrutinise how ministers can engage more with ICAI to make sure the independent recommendations leads to stronger decision-making, as well as lasting change at every level. Speaking on sustainable overseas development at the High-level Political Forum in July, Ambassador James Roscoe said, “This is the moment to shape a recovery that delivers cleaner, healthier, more inclusive, and more resilient economies and societies, that puts the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the goals of the Paris Agreement back within reach as we collectively rise to the challenge of the Decade of Action. This means leaving no one behind. This means supporting and providing quality education and health services for people living in poverty, women and girls, people with disabilities and marginalised and crisis affected groups. This means ensuring that they are empowered to play a meaningful leadership role and their voices are heard.”

The United Nations has set a target for donor countries to contribute 0.7% of their GDP on foreign aid, since 1970. The UK has been enrolled to meet this target since 1974, however, the country reached that goal for the first time in 2013. While there is no obligation to meet the spend, the international development secretary is required to explain any such failure to Parliament.

Jack Corbett, Professor of Politics at Southampton University. Photo: Southampton University

Concerns have been raised about rumours from Treasury insiders that Rishi Sunak is exploring the legality of the UK’s commitment to overseas spending targets. Professor of Politics at Southampton University, Jack Corbett told Eat News, “Based on the recent experience of other countries, including in Australia, the Johnson government’s decision to merge DfID with the FCO is likely to foreshadow a decrease in the UK’s aid budget in service of a much narrower interpretation of the national interest.”

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Sources have been circulating similar claims that the Chancellor is planning to reduce the foreign aid budget, and will make the announcement in November, alongside plans to improve the economy post-coronavirus. Speaking on the allegations, Politics Editor for The Sun Harry Cole said, “aid commitment for the chop with legislative battle to be sparked this autumn – could take months but the intention is there to slim down [the] budget and use some cash on FCO and Ministry of Defence.” Commenting further, chair of the Commons International Development Committee, Labour’s Sarah Champion tweeted, “Evidence this Tory Government wanted to take money from the very poorest in the world. Don’t be fooled this money will come to the UK’s poor, it never does.”

Overseas development spending has had many vocal critics, and many believe the amount that the UK spends is too large and that aid money has been wasted. The Conservative government supports the 0.7% target, while several Tory backbenchers oppose it. The belief is that “important things at home like social care are struggling,” said Conservative MP Peter Bone on the issue in 2017. Other parties, such as UKIP, believe the money would be better spent on the National Health Service.

ICAI was established in 2011 to provide additional assurance to the UK taxpayer that UK aid is being spent well, has an impact globally and provides value for money. The watchdog supports Parliament in holding the UK Government to account on its aid spending. Previous reports have led to improvements in the ways UK aid is spent and monitored. It has led to more robust collecting and reporting of results for Department for International Development’s maternal health programmes. It also led to department providing greater support to other government bodies that spend aid money.

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The newly commissioned report is anticipated to begin later this September and is expected to determine strategies for the UK government to spend aid more successfully. November announcements will reveal if there is any truth to the allegations of attempts to cut the budget, to save the UK from the coronavirus fallout.

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Emily Lowes is an Eat News correspondent in the UK who has experience writing social, political, and economic features for a range of news outlets. She is an avid communicator, activist, and advocate for the freedom of information.

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Eat News is a Taiwanese digital media, analyzes current events and issues through column articles, videos, visual aid, and exclusive interviews.

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