DfID-FCO Merger in the UK-a curated collection
But so far, very few commentators from outside the Northern hemisphere have chimed in & not many forward-looking discussion have started about the ways we should fund, manage & "do" #globaldev in the 21st century and what roles traditional institutions and mechanisms should play.
But behind this unified view, disproportionately expressed by white Northern men, it becomes clear that large parts of the UK’s international development establishment are really worried about the decision, because it will most likely have negative implications for their future budget and scope of work.My own two cents after collecting & reading all these items for the last three weeks (Aidnography, 10 July).
My post focuses on NGOs, Think Tanks and the party political establishment, with the question in mind how these inevitable changes may affect organizations and the traditional set-up of how development is conceptualized, discussed, financed and implemented in the future.
The case for an independent aid-giving department, with a Cabinet-level Minister leading its work, is imperative if the UK is to help end extreme poverty. DFID’s focus on this mission is reflected in its contributions to address global development goals, and the Committee is concerned that any changes to current Government systems could undermine the UK’s reputation and influence overseas.
“The International Development Committees review, showed it is abundantly clear that DFID is an incredibly strong and well-respected department internationally. DFID offers a vital life-line for so many people struggling around the world and is well-respected by NGOs on the ground, literally saving lives. We cannot lose sight of why we support other countries with Official Development Assistance; we help children access quality education, we boost healthcare facilities, we ensure people access justice and security.International Development Committee (UK Parliament, 16 June).
“I can assure the honorable lady there has been massive consultation over a long period of time,” Johnson replied.William Worley (DevEx, 16 June).
But numerous development experts and groups told Devex they were unaware of any consultation taking place.
'Political vandalism': DfID and Foreign Office merger met with anger by UK charities
Kevin Watkins, the chief executive of Save the Children, said the merger was “a flawed decision that flies in the face of commitments made in the government’s manifesto”.Liz Ford (The Guardian, 16 June).
“During the biggest humanitarian crisis in a century, when the Covid-19 pandemic is reversing hard won gains in child and maternal health, education, and poverty, this is a baffling and deeply damaging move. It will weaken the UK’s ability to provide for the world’s poorest children at a time when they need the UK’s support and solidarity.”
Watkins said a cabinet minister for international development must be retained “to ensure that humanitarian considerations are heard at the highest level of government”, and the government must “move immediately” to protect the focus and quality of aid now spent through the Foreign Office.
In place of vision: Boris Johnson tinkers with Whitehall while Britain is adrift
But merging the departments will achieve none of this—it will simply distract diplomats and befuddle development officers. Most British diplomats do not have the experience or skills to manage £100m development programs. DfiD staff lack the training in traditional diplomacy. Trying to pretend these two very different organisations are one damages both.Rory Stewart (Prospect, 16 June).
And it will not—despite the secret hopes of the diplomats—solve their own budgetary catastrophe. Instead, it will simply begin the shift of DfiD money from development towards things the Treasury cares about more—trade and frigates first, perhaps, but ultimately hospitals at home. The Foreign Office will have succeeded in weakening our much admired international development programmes, but gained nothing for itself.
DFID’s merger with FCO will hurt world’s poorest
DFID has made a huge difference around the world, from responding to Ebola, to providing access to water and sanitation, educating millions of children, tackling climate change and improving the rights of women and girls. The UK must not turn its back on the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people at a time when disease, poverty, climate change and conflict continue to devastate lives.BOND (16 June).
Farewell Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Welcome Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office
The prime minister’s announcement, at first glance, would appear to be about the FCO swallowing DFID. If the Spending Review leads to a further shift in FCDO resources to ODA, however, it may be more appropriate to see it as opening the way to the transformation of the FCO into an organisation that focuses mainly on development programmes, albeit with (increasingly underfunded) side-lines in consular activity and diplomacy. Although this was not the intention of those who have campaigned most strongly for a merger, it seems the most likely outcome of these proposals as they currently stand.Malcolm Chalmers (Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), 16 June).
At this time of global crisis, Britain's development work is more vital than ever
In 1997, DfiD was established as a full government department headed by a cabinet minister; I was the first to take up the post. This meant more than attendance at cabinet. It meant that in all cross-Whitehall work, the development perspective was brought to the fore. In the end decisions have to be made and, even with DfiD in existence, sometimes commercial considerations won out. Notoriously, Tony Blair overruled myself and DfiD and insisted that a highly questionable air traffic control deal for Tanzania should go ahead. It later went to court in the US over corruption claims, and nearly £30m had to be repaid. But if DfiD had not existed, the argument would not have even made it to the top of the government as it would have been ruled on by the foreign secretary.Clare Short (The Guardian, 17 June).
Farewell DFID … a personal obituary
Evermore complex measuring methods were introduced, the seeming logic being that the more numbers collected the more real the achievement could be made out to be. As all recipients of DFID funding will probably testify, it led to the LogFrame transforming from the orthodox single page (its original theory was that one should be able to see the inherent logic of the whole at a single glance) to a tortuous, multi-page indicator register of baffling complexity. The notorious business case model also created exponential demands, and subsequent additional processes for undertaking due diligence, supply chain mapping and safeguarding checks, all the result of single episodes, each added to the layers of bureaucracy.Phil Mason (LinkedIn, 17 June).
By its end, DFID was smothered in process, less certain of itself, encumbered rather than invigorating. Those undefensive early days, where spontaneity, responsiveness, flexibility and ‘taking a risk’ allowed professionally qualified staff to excel in a noble purpose ended up by the end of the 2010s with an office that was ponderous, slow to get off the mark, less visible internationally and far less a leader than it used to be.
DSA Response to the proposed merger of FCO-DFID
At a time when the Government has committed itself to ‘follow the science’, we call on the Government to listen to the combined global development expertise that our Association represents and reverse this decision which has such potential to harm some of the world’s poorest people, further undermine the autonomy of DFID and the effectiveness of UK aid, reduce our influence on the world stage, and leave our country ultimately more exposed to global fragilities and uncertainties.UK's Development Studies Association (17 June).
DfID merger with Foreign Office signals shift from using aid to reduce poverty to promoting British national self interest
DfID has become another casualty of the Brexit wars. It became embroiled in Brexit debates when Johnson as foreign minister, and Priti Patel, then secretary of state for international development, both demanded the aid budget be used to support building Britain’s post-Brexit future. This is, then, a victory for the hardline Brexit faction in the Conservative Party, which has long questioned the protection of UK aid budgets and demanded aid policy be reoriented to UK interests. An independent DfID was too able to pursue its own course for the government’s liking, and this enforced marriage will ensure its relative independence can be tamed.Michael Jennings (The Conversation, 17 June).
DfID merger will be bad for poor countries and for the UK
This is a huge step backwards. Having worked as first secretary for what was then the ODA in Bangladesh when Margaret Thatcher had put the FCO in charge, it was clear that UK politics and business were the priority, not tackling poverty and inequity. I rejoined under Clare Short when DfID was created. Under her, DfID became a world-class development department, respected across the world. How times change. Already, significant funding supports British business interests and has moved under FCO control through, for example, the Prosperity Fund. The future for aid to the poorest post-coronavirus looks grim.
These achievements are due in no small part to the expertise and experience of staff in DFID who have made the UK a global leader in development in the last two decades. As numerous commentators and experts have pointed out, DFID and the FCO do different jobs, requiring different skills. The restructure carries with it the risk of losing vital expertise that would have significant ramifications for the effectiveness of UK aid spending, particularly the delivery of large portfolios and programmes that support and save millions of lives all over the world.Amy Dodd, Anna Hope & Rob Tew (Development Initiatives, 18 June).
Why the DFID-FCO Merger Will Make Aid’s Most Transformative Work Impossible and the Battles Ahead
Seen in light of the merger, my fear is that DFID’s years of building an international reputation for work addressing ‘poverty’, some of which occurs in extremely volatile places and unavoidably touches upon contentious local issues, will be undone by aid’s public association with the rest of UK plc. It could have very real consequences as aid is increasingly viewed as a ‘tactic’ in diplomats’ wider strategies or, worse, an activity that undermines host countries’ economic and political freedoms.Tom Kirk (Global Policy, 19 June).
At this juncture, I cannot see how the FCDO can avoid such accusations without dropping some of DFID’s most challenging and transformative work. This work already benefits from diplomats’ political capital. But to do so it treads a fine line, cloaking itself in the veneer of impartiality the merger will surely crush.
Development Leadership in the UK’s New Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office
Looking at previous cases of similar mergers in other countries, it’s hard to see this move as strengthening Britain’s role in development. But, if the department is serious about development, there are important steps it could take to demonstrate that commitment. The government has given itself three months to implement the merger. What should Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and Development Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan prioritise to make the new department the best possible asset for Britain and its development partners? I set out seven components below.Ian Mitchell (Center for Global Development, 19 June)
Why the end of DFID, Black Lives Matter and Covid-19 mean INGOs could finally shift power and reinvent themselves
If this merger forces people to move away from the traditional grant model where a northern donor gives via a northern gatekeeper to a southern partner, that can only be a good thing, as it would disrupt these traditional neo-colonial aid power dynamics. A new model could: draw on the good practice of Community Foundations; look at developing and supporting national and local philanthropy in partnership with grassroots organisations; fund and support organisations and movements holistically rather than linear projects or programmes. Perhaps this is an opportunity to finally find that model which takes out the middleman in London controlling funding, providing expert advice, evaluating etc. UK organisations could support their partners to become sustainable by funding them to obtain philanthropic support at a national or regional level so they become more connected to and accountable to their local commutes than to the London office of an INGO.
If the departmental merger cannot be stopped then it should be made a move towards more radical decentralisation. Instead of bringing local DfID offices under the direction of the British ambassador, it needs to create a new cadre of deeply informed development professionals prepared to work for many years in remote rural areas. Most of these people will not be British nationals and should not be employed as UK civil servants. A UK-based civil servant costs the government three times their salary just to support in an overseas posting. “Duty of care” obligations prohibit civil servants from visiting more dangerous places — and some countries, such as Yemen — entirely. This new cadre should be set free of such constraints. They should have the flexibility to hire as many staff as they require and to open field offices without restrictions from the centre. They should be able to design programmes that bring change over a generation, rather than to respond to Whitehall’s annual spending rounds. They should be able to supplement government funding with money raised from philanthropists and foundations. They should be able to work with far more small local civil society organisations, and to implement programmes directly rather than subcontract. And they should recruit tough, empathetic, cunning people — who know how to spot a bad clinic from a brief visit to its toilet, or how to design a sewage system that works under rocket fire.Rory Stewart (Financial Times, 19 June).
The UK is taking aid back to its colonial roots
The reforms that aid so urgently needs – both in the UK and globally – should evolve aid into a system of redistribution, redress and reparations, to recognize and address these historic and contemporary imbalances. It should change the governance of aid mechanisms, to ensure donor nations can no longer override the voices and interests of countries in the Global South. Such reforms must also be accompanied by ambitious approaches to tackle the global structures behind poverty and inequality today, such as coordinated global action to clamp down on tax dodging.Martin Drewry (New Internationalist, 19 June).
Abolishing DfID instead risks squeezing any meaningful efforts to address poverty and inequality, in favour of an overt pursuit of the national interest. Yet again, British imperialist attitudes will win out, and the poorest people around the world will pay the price – at a time when global solidarity is needed more than ever.
Anything the Government wants to do with DFID, for example to make it more strategically aligned with Foreign Office objectives, it can easily do with an independent department. But getting rid of it at this point in time, is a big mistake.— Tony Blair Institute (@InstituteGC) June 19, 2020
Watch Tony Blair's full response ↓ pic.twitter.com/FBBcda3Z4u
Foresti said the cost of U.K. development policy’s ringfenced position — existing separately from core government business — was that it became “disconnected and not influential” in broader government thinking. It also reinforced paternalistic “them and us” attitudes — a “deeply flawed” model, she said. “It's just not going to cut it with the public [and] the politicians,” she added.William Worley (DevEx, 19 June).
A powerful, integrated but autonomous development agency could, in time, have “some positive outcomes,” Foresti said, including the potential to “bring development inside policy conversations not about poor countries but about global challenges.”
“You don’t begin with development; you begin with climate, conflict and security, mobility, international crime. ... And you bring what we know about working in particular settings around the world, fostering local and regional development as part of the solution,” she said.
“A stand-alone DFID no longer makes sense in that particular context. It will be much more influential as part of British foreign policy if all the instruments work together,” (Mukesh Kapila) argued.
Andrew Mitchell spoke out against Boris Johnson’s decision as opposition to the merger grows. “I’ve had messages from all over the world. People shaking their heads in disbelief at this utterly self-inflicted act of vandalism,” said Mitchell, who ran Dfid between 2010 and 2012.Jamie Doward (The Guardian, 20 June).
“Senior figures will be poached – Geneva and New York’s gain will be Britain’s loss. We are destroying at a stroke a key aspect of global Britain.”
DfID staff 'devastated and demoralised' by Foreign Office merger
DfID employees criticised the merger, with one saying staff were “devastated, demoralised, angry, anxious” and claiming Boris Johnson had seized on the pandemic to “achieve a long-term goal” in axing the department as a standalone entity.Simon Murphy (The Guardian, 21 June).
Another said it was a politicised, opportunistic move that had “pulled the rug away” from under staffers’ feet, with many worried about job security.
Unions representing DfID civil servants, who have written to the FCO demanding formal consultation over the plans, said their members were “shocked and angered” and that the staff testimony obtained by the Guardian was a “damning indictment”.
Boris Johnson urged to reconsider ‘unnecessary and expensive’ DfID merger by almost 200 charities
Nearly 200 aid organisations and charities have called on Boris Johnson to reconsider his decision to scrap the Department for International Development (Dfid).
The groups, which include Save the Children and ActionAid, said merging the government ministry with the Foreign Office was an ”unnecessary and expensive distraction”.
In a letter to the prime minister, 188 humanitarian and development charities, NGOs and think tanks said the move suggested the UK was “turning its back on the world’s poorest people”.
“It also risks us being less able to respond to the great challenges of our time, such as global health security and climate change,” the charities add.
“This decision, taken during a global pandemic with no consultation, ahead of the review of development, diplomacy and defence and against the recent advice of the cross-party International Development Select Committee, does not enhance our reputation in the world but diminishes it.”
Overseas aid grants stopped ahead of department being axed – damaging coronavirus fight in poorest countries
Funding for scores of life-saving overseas projects has been stopped ahead of the axing of the aid department, undermining attempts to prevent the coronavirus wreaking havoc in the world’s poorest countries.Rob Merrick (The Independent, 22 June).
The doomed Department for International Development (DfID) has “paused” grants as it prepares to slash billions from its budget – before it is abolished altogether in September, The Independent can reveal.
Worried aid leaders believe the move lays bare the real agenda behind Boris Johnson’s announcement, which is to shift funds from fighting poverty to bolstering trade and foreign policy struggles such as resisting Russia.
And they are warning it will have devastating consequences in the developing world, where Covid-19 threatens a humanitarian disaster because of weak health systems and shoddy living conditions.
The head of one organisation, which faces losing £250,000 of funding destined for work in Malawi, said: “People will die or be pushed further into extreme poverty because of this.”
Warning DfID merger will dilute quality of jobs at East Kilbride site
"There's 620 jobs approximately in East Kilbride, which is about the same as they have in Whitehall. It is very much half of the operation. Yes they do back office functions, but they also do policy.Hannah Rodger (The Herald, 22 June).
"They're not going to move it or shut it, but the question is as the orientation moves away from development, which is what East Kilbride supports, and more towards foreign policy which is always frankly London-based., it's difficult to see that it won't have some impact, if not on the numbers but possibly on the quality of the jobs that are based in East Kilbride."
DFID and FCO merger: our experts' views
We cannot equate the type of development cooperation for low-income or lower-middle income countries with economies higher up the income per capita spectrum. Policy influence in a country like Ukraine does not require the same level of financial transfers as it would in Zambia, for example. Less expensive instruments like knowledge-sharing, peer learning and policy dialogue should be scaled up in upper-middle income countries.
In response to an Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) review in 2016, for the past couple of years DFID staff have been working on a set of ‘transition principles’, yet to be released, to guide how bilateral aid programmes should be wound down when a country is no longer on the priority list. This merger could be an opportunity to reconsider the overall approach of UK development cooperation. It’s a chance to deploy different resources, instruments and approaches across countries to reflect their demands and preferences, and to maximise impact and influence. One size does not fit all.
The result, over two decades, has been that DFID remains the last bastion of a fading principle: aid is there for the benefit of the recipient, and the national interest flows from that, rather than directs it. That creates mutual trust, and mutual trust is the bedrock of a good neighbourhood.Sulaiman Hakemy (The National, 23 June).
“We are [giving aid] because it is both the right thing to do and firmly in Britain’s national interest,” read several of DFID’s policy documents.
Last week, Boris Johnson, the British Prime Minister, and his Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, announced that DFID would soon be merged into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Britain’s foreign ministry, to create a “super-department”.
The decision was reportedly made without the knowledge of the Cabinet, the National Security Council or DFID's most senior official. DFID’s own staff discovered the news via Twitter on the morning it was announced.
In fact, this ‘Ultra Poor Graduation’ approach is, this week, receiving the Audacious Award, and over 60 million USD, in recognition of its truly transformative potential. Without support from the UK government, with their laser-like focus on impact, appetite for innovation and determination to Leave No one Behind, there would be no Audacious Award for this Initiative. In fact, without support from the UK government, BRAC wouldn’t have the audacious ambition of reaching out beyond Bangladesh, to millions more of the world’s poorest people.Asif Saleh (BRAC/Thomson Reuters Foundation News, 23 June).
The latest significant step in the UK’s development agenda
The merger of DfID into the FCO is thus the latest in an ongoing reorientation of British ODA. It is nonetheless significant because it marks a more defined break away from aid as humanitarianism. The re-incorporation of DfID into the FCO reduces the possibility to align British aid with the interests and development plans of recipient countries, thus giving rise to a ‘new-model colonial policy’, as recently argued by Oqubay. It places ODA firmly within a narrow nationalist agenda with deep resonances with empire that stands opposed to the raging Black Lives Matter movement and the calls for reckoning with the imperialist history of the UK. This is all the more significant in the current historical moment, when the anti-racist movements have been reignited in the UK as the Covid-19 pandemic is making visible how institutionalised racism can make the difference between life and death, with BAME people disproportionately affected by coronavirus owing to their economic deprivation, social marginalisation and over-representation among low-paid ‘essential’ workers.Susan Newman & Sara Stevano (Developing Economics, 24 June).
Fundamentally this is because research and evidence make for better, more effective development, informed by real-world issues, experiences, contexts and complexities. Development designed and conducted in an evidence vacuum is, at best, likely to miss its mark, and at worst, downright dangerous. It is also because the vital, and globally unique, leadership in transformative research aimed at tackling global challenges, is a UK success story, in which DFID has played a central role. Research should remain an important part of the ‘Global Britain’ offer and be recognised as critical to the UK’s soft power. DFID’s skills, capacity and sustained investment in this area should be retained and reinforced if the new department is to achieve its ambitions and value for money for the UK taxpayer.Melissa Leach (Institute of Development Studies, 24 June).
DFID merger causes 'serious transparency challenge' for UK aid
“It is difficult to see how the new office will reconcile the competing mandates of poverty reduction and U.K. foreign policy interests, both at the global level but also in the field, given the newly expanded roles of ambassadors to manage ODA,” said Gary Forster, CEO of PWYF, which promotes transparency in development.William Worley (DevEx, 24 June).
The news also means that the government has failed to meet its target of all aid-spending departments being rated “good” or “very good” by the index by 2020.
The U.K.’s reputation is boosted by transparency, which ensures aid is spent effectively to reduce poverty rather than for “political or commercial gain,” according to Forster.
“To protect the poverty focus of U.K. aid, it is vital that ODA spending not only maintains the world-class transparency standard set by DFID, but indeed becomes more transparent to protect against accusations of mismanagement or underhand dealings,” he added.
In a review of the Australian merger last year, Moore found the loss of senior, locally engaged development staff had the “biggest single impact on the quality of management of development activities”. The new standalone department lost influence with key partner governments and on major international development issues. “Dumbing down development doesn’t work,” Moore said.Karen McVeigh (The Guardian, 25 June).
Stephen Brown, professor of political science at the University of Ottawa and editor of a book on the effectiveness of the Canadian International Development Agency, said: “The structure matters less than the political will. Whichever structure you have, it depends on what you want to do and from what I hear about the UK’s motivation, it’s pretty clear it’s not about poverty alleviation. In Canada, it was not so blatantly self interested. The official reason was to bring development to the table with diplomacy and trade.”
DFID’s integration: lessons from Australia and New Zealand
The consequences of integration have not been wholly negative. One positive result in New Zealand that has been emphasised to us in conversations is that more NZ commissioners and ambassadors to developing countries now go into their roles having had practical experience with aid. In Australia there have been real benefits for the Pacific on the labour mobility front. DFAT had to a large extent previously delegated responsibility for the Pacific to AusAID. The latter, while sympathetic to labour mobility, looked at the region through an aid lens and lacked political clout. Integration forced DFAT to take back responsibility for the Pacific. More sceptical of aid, the department looked for alternatives, and swung its weight behind labour mobility. DFAT also had greater power to push for change. The result has been expanded labour mobility opportunities for Pacific workers in Australia.Ashlee Betteridge, Stephen Howes & Terence Wood (DevPolicyBlog, 26 June).
Building inside FCDO (and possibly outside government too) a strong cadre of people supporting the whole of Whitehall in the design and delivery of ODA resources on the ground will help set common standards and reduce challenges related to ODA spending across Whitehall. Finally, a healthy contestation of policy, spending plans and trade-offs within FCDO and across Whitehall will build both the legitimacy and accountability of the new Department.Stefan Dercon & Ranil Dissanayake (Center for Global Development, 26 June).
Ultimately, treating the new department as a new entity with new potential borne of the specific objectives it pursues is the only positive way forward. Simply grafting an existing infrastructure for development onto a short-termist diplomatic service will end in tears, as it has before; after all the Centaur is an agent of chaos, not stability. Instead, cultivating the right set of objectives, understood and pursued over the long-term, making full use of the capabilities and staffing available to maximise these can make a success of the new department.
Combining diplomacy and development will make UK aid's work even better
In the real world you cannot separate diplomacy and development as you pursue these interests and values. Combining the two will make our work, including our humanitarian work, even better.Anne-Marie Trevelyan (The Guardian, 27 June).
Australia, Canada and New Zealand have all made a similar move. In the UK it will create a department, which has the combination of size, reach and expertise to project us effectively internationally and make sure that we spend our development money in the best possible way. The UK is globally recognised for its expertise and transparency in aid spending. The new department will put that expertise and commitment to transparency at the heart of its work to deliver aid to some of the world’s poorest people.
Some selected highlights from @DFID_UK (mostly drawing on my experiences). So much more still to do to #LeaveNooneBehind. But perhaps now is a good moment to reset the narrative: not an old-fashioned view of aid but modern partnerships to tackle shared challenges. pic.twitter.com/1F1yhpCBme— Vel Gnanendran (@VelavanG) June 28, 2020
Fourth, what will happen to locally engaged staff? This was the most egregious mistake made by DFAT in 2013. Management and oversight responsibilities were removed from local staff literally overnight. Many with decades of service were downgraded and required to take pay cuts as AusAID staff were shoe-horned into DFAT pay scales. Of course many left – taking knowledge, contacts and access with them – usually to other development agencies. FCDO must avoid this at all costs.Graham Tesky (Governance and Development Soapbox, 29 June).
1st day leading @DFID UN+ C'weath Dept. A privilege. Quality team, vital agenda, crucial partnerships, opps + challenge. Building fairer & more sustainable world needs UN to be its best, coherent & effective. Progress⬆️, full delivery of SG’s reforms key. I'm keen to learn,views?— Gerard Howe (@GerardH07) June 29, 2020
DFID/FCO merger will be complete by September, the UK foreign secretary says, and confirms a review - not "a sustained pause" - is underway of impact on aid budget of fall in UK Gross National Income due to pandemic. This implies cuts in this year's aid budget.— Patrick Wintour (@patrickwintour) June 30, 2020
We need international cooperation to address crises of the global commons. We need it to build relationships with suddenly powerful players we have neglected. We need it to deal ourselves into the reengineering of global and regional order that is happening apace. And most of all we need it to preserve peaceful cooperation as the better alternative to the growing advocates of conflict.Richard Moore (DevPolicy Blog, 30 June).
It’s a long shot, but the UK has a chance to get this right. It could combine and reinvent both its diplomacy and development cooperation in pursuit of shared interests.
At the very least, the UK should do what Australia did not do and debate thoroughly and openly how to best reorganise and combine its development work and diplomacy for a much more challenging future.
DFID seeks cuts of up to 30% on aid projects
The U.K. aid budget is set to decline as the economy shrinks. Government ministers maintain that no decisions have yet been made on the reductions, but sources in the development community told Devex that the process of reducing funds has already begun, affecting existing programs.William Worley (DevEx, 30 June).
There are also fears that funding cuts are being made uniformly across the government’s broad range of aid spending, rather than being targeted to protect programs supporting the most vulnerable.
The cuts come as the U.K. Department for International Development heads toward a merger with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. Some in the development community have linked the cuts to the merger, which was announced earlier this month, despite government pledges to maintain a focus on poverty reduction and continue work in the least developed and most conflict-affected countries.
I was often struck by the passion, expertise, and dedication that my U.K. colleagues displayed for their work. Many have criticized DFID for failing to market the U.K. through its work. I would argue that prioritizing active problem-solving over branded photo opportunities is precisely why DFID was considered first among equals in most of these countries.Omar Mukhtar Khan (DevEx, 30 June).
The focus on poverty reduction and practical solutions had a big impact on our working culture, too; in contrast to other international organizations, the DFID Pakistan office was characterized by respect for the expertise and knowledge of locally engaged staff members — most of whom had qualifications from the world’s best universities and a deep commitment to development. We worked in an atmosphere of mutual trust and a collective desire to make a difference, whether in discussion with senior officials or on a surprise visit to a rural health center to check on the availability of doctors and medicines.
British prime minister's decision to end UK aid's focus on poverty smacks of racism
In the time of Black Lives Matter — and as the U.K. government seeks to promote the new concept of a “global Britain” — Johnson and FCO, which is now responsible for the aid budget, need to lead from the top on anti-racism. This should include taking proactive steps to address Britain’s historical relationship with ex-colonies, including its role in slavery and white supremacy.Tim Boyes-Watson (DevEx/Humentum, 30 June).
Aid prioritization decisions should not be rushed and need to be carefully considered using evidence and the established value-for-money criteria. Furthermore, the profiles of who is involved in key decisions must be considered and proactive steps to address racism and unconscious bias should be taken with speed.
Sarah Champion, chair of parliament’s international development committee, which is due to be scrapped in the merger, said the government did not appear to have a clear strategy.Kaamil Ahmed (The Guardian, 3 July).
“There doesn’t seem to be any oversight; so, for example, if all the departments cut projects in one country, who will notice this? Or if all middle-income countries retain their funding?” she said.
“I’ve been raising it in the chamber and submitting questions to to find out whether there’s an overarching strategy, and there doesn’t seem to be.
“What we need is for DfID and indeed the Foreign Office to be putting all their energy and focus into fighting the impact of Covid-19.”
Agree. Would there ever be an evaluation of UK NGOs campaigns on this? For a while I felt they were shy, unambitious and too cousy with UK government. I once told colleagues at a planning session: Are you considering DfID may be merged & the UK out of Europe? There weren't! https://t.co/kRT5DFWeE1— José Manuel Roche (@jomroche) July 3, 2020
Many DFAT veterans can attest to discovering, post-integration, entire teams working on issues of direct relevance to their mission of which they were previously unaware. Integration did not instantly fix these problems, but a single internal phone book did not hurt. Overall, however, the challenges integration addressed were operational, and not the alleged grand strategic disconnects cited as motivating such a colossal shift. The staff at DFID and the FCO can be expected to make a merger work. DFAT did, and the survey numbers show upward trends in both staff morale and stakeholder satisfaction. However, to the extent that mergers in Australia, Canada and the UK were driven by legitimate concerns and not culture war virtue signalling or personality clashes, the stated objectives are unlikely to be met. Unless governments make the immoral and misguided choice to pivot away from trying to make a real difference in developing countries and towards chequebook diplomacy, most aid spending will never be an agile foreign policy tool.Dmitry Grozoubinski & John Fowler (Devpolicy Blog, 10 July).
Effectiveness of UK aid: potential impact of FCO/DFID merger
We welcome increased attention on coordinating the UK’s messages, policies and programmes on international policy matters. But this is not necessarily achieved by a simple amalgamation of portfolios. The UK would do much better to demonstrate international political leadership on humanitarian relief, poverty reduction and other development issues by retaining a Cabinet-level Minister for International Development, responsible for the totality of the UK’s ODA spend, who should also remain the distinct and separate ‘development voice’, as now, and should sit on the National Security Council.International Development Committee (UK Parliament, 16 July).
The loss of an independent DFID, with poverty reduction at its heart and years of specialist development expertise, risks damaging the quality of UK aid and undoing hard won development gains. The Government should set out how it intends to capture and retain DFID expertise in doing development well, and what plans are in place to rapidly train FCO staff in the skills necessary to manage effective development programmes. In the face of budget cuts, UK aid must protect its life-saving projects, especially those undertaken by small, local civil society organisations. Aid must be transparent, and accordingly the Government should commit to all UK ODA funding meeting the international aid transparency standard of at least ‘good’ within the next year.
Maintaining robust scrutiny mechanisms is essential to make sure that UK aid is spent in the best possible way. To that end, we recommend that the House of Commons creates an Official Development Assistance Select Committee tasked with scrutiny of the totality of UK aid spending and echoing the Independent Commission for Aid Impact’s remit. We also recommend that the Government retains ICAI in its current form in order to provide thorough, independent scrutiny of the UK’s aid budget.
The report highlights the risks of working without a strategy, losing expert development staff members, and the need for high standards of scrutiny and transparency — including a separate, dedicated committee monitoring aid.William Worley (DevEx, 23 July).
“Creating the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office from two Departments with their own cultures will require strong strategic direction and leadership from the beginning,” the report states. “With urgent responses needed to global challenges, the new Department will have no time to settle in,” it warned.
Despite the government’s justification for the merger — to improve coordination on international policy — the members of Parliament expressed concern that the speed of the change, announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in June, would leave the new department vulnerable to working in a poorly coordinated fashion. The merger is also taking place before the results of the government’s integrated review of international policies, which could provide evidence or a framework for the department’s strategic direction.
“Given the gap between the merger and the reporting date of the Integrated Review, the FCDO risks operating for months without clear strategic direction, which will be compounded by the likely productivity dips which follow departmental mergers,” according to the report.
We need to talk about principles
We need to talk about how to protect principles and do so based on good evidence. The international aid architecture is changing at a rapid pace and many people are feeling that old certainties – respect for humanitarian principles and IHL, a workable level of international cooperation and access to people in need – can no longer be taken for granted. At a time like this it is necessary to clarify and re-emphasise the importance of our values, principles and purpose.John Mitchell (ALNAP, 30 July).
Evaluating how humanitarian actors can best live up to their principles would not only build trust across the system and strengthen accountability. Over time, it could provide an evidence base to help us understand how best to manage future mergers so that humanitarian principles can be protected and enhanced, rather than diluted.