UK prime minister Boris Johnson today announced that the Department for International Development (DFID) will formally merge with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).
The new department is to be called the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.
This announcement is highly concerning for the world’s poorest, as a merger risks putting the UK aid budget in the hands of those with little expertise in global health systems, humanitarian response, reducing poverty and disease prevention. An independent DFID with cabinet-level representation is the best way to ensure UK aid goes to helping those most in need, while not being tied to the UK’s political interests.
Aid watchdogs’ evidence and recommendations ignored by PM
The government’s decision comes without any consultation with the UK’s international development and humanitarian sector, and against the recommendations of independent aid scrutiny bodies, such as ICAI and the cross-party International Development Select Committee (IDC).
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Independent reviews have repeatedly found DFID to be the most transparent and effective government department for spending Official Development Assistance (ODA). Other government departments, including the FCO, have been criticised for spending UK aid on projects that advance security and diplomatic interests, rather than reduce poverty.
Just last week, the cross-party IDC praised DFID’s work in helping the world’s poorest and called for MPs to recognise “DFID’s world-leading reputation, commit to its continuation as a standalone department and to get a grip on oversight for government ODA”.
While giving evidence to the IDC in April, international development secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan said: “what having a separate DFID secretary of state brings to our global leadership and respect, and what we can deliver in trying to achieve the reductions in global poverty, is well served by having both a foreign secretary and a DFID secretary.”
UK mustn’t turn its back on world’s poorest
With the world facing the biggest global pandemic in our lifetime, we need a globally-respected, independent DFID that has the relevant expertise to ensure Covid-19 is tackled globally, as well as a secretary of state for international development to champion the needs of the world’s poorest people in our global response.
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 CEO, Stephanie Draper, says: “Scrapping DFID now puts the international response to Covid-19 in jeopardy and, at a time when we need global co-operation, risks a resurgence of the disease both abroad and here in the UK. But this isn’t just about Covid-19. Keeping an independent DFID is the best way to ensure aid is spent helping those most in need, delivers impact for the British taxpayer and remains untied to our political interests. Make no mistake, this decision will do nothing but hurt the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.”
All UK aid, regardless of which government department now spends it, should be fully transparent and accountable to British taxpayers, as well as the communities that money helps. This can only be achieved if the UK follows recognised standards of transparency and retains the parliamentary scrutiny bodies put in place to ensure full accountability.
The UK government must take urgent steps to ensure that DFID’s high standards for aid spending are maintained by the new department. Here are our three most pressing policy priorities for the DFID-FCO merger.
Read our blog on why we need transparency in aid spending.