What should the new secretary of state for foreign, commonwealth and development affairs prioritise?
29 September 2021
With Liz Truss now promoted to secretary of state for foreign, commonwealth and development affairs, the incoming secretary of state becomes the second person to take charge of the recently formed Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).
So much remains at stake as we head towards COP26, and as we continue to respond to multiple humanitarian crises around the world and work to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals.
Here is what we believe Liz Truss should prioritise.
Priorities for the new international development strategy
The government’s upcoming new international development strategy is an opportunity for the FCDO to demonstrate an unwavering commitment to poverty reduction, putting the most marginalised people and communities at the heart of the FCDO agenda, and supporting human rights defenders and civic space around the world.
But delivering this requires ambitious goals that will allow Liz Truss's department, and the whole of government, to deliver meaningful progress to help achieve the sustainable development goals and address huge challenges, including vaccine inequity, civil society crackdowns, climate change and humanitarian crises in places like Afghanistan, Yemen, South Sudan and Ethiopia.
How the UK government uses its now reduced aid budget will continue to be an important component of the development strategy. As this government is keen to emphasise – even reduced the UK’s £10 billion annual aid budget is still a significant contribution to global Official Development Assistance (ODA). It is more important than ever that the money is spent in ways that maximise its contribution to reducing poverty. This will require going back to focusing on the basics of good aid, and reversing the trend of allowing other government departments and other objectives to capture increasing portions of the ODA spend. It also means taking steps to re-balance the FCDO’s aid portfolio towards lower-income and fragile states, ensuring that aid is used to maximum benefit for the most marginalised people. Security, migration and even prosperity are worthwhile aims, but that does not mean that they are good, or even legitimate, uses of ODA. The new Foreign Secretary should avoid the temptation to further dilute the purpose of the aid budget but instead reprioritise to ensure the UK does the most good for the people who need it the most.
There are some easy wins here. The government has already committed that excess vaccine doses donated this year will be additional to the £10 billion ODA budget for 2021-22. They should go further and ensure that all vaccine doses are additional to the 0.5% target in coming years as well. Likewise, any re-channelling of the new issue of special drawing rights (SDRs) from the IMF should be additional to the 0.5% target.
Bring diplomacy and development together to deliver for people
It is critical that FCDO uses all of its portfolio to deliver long-term, equitable sustainable development for the most marginalised communities, whilst protecting human rights and civil society space globally.
The FCDO has the potential to make a significant contribution to finding solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. It requires looking beyond humanitarian and development assistance to see diplomacy and trade as levers for development and not vice versa.
This means using the UK’s bilateral and multilateral influence to reform the international system, making the rules fairer while defending the rule of law, humanitarian principles and human rights. It means articulating a sustainable approach to trade, based on genuine mutual benefit and underpinned by commitments to ending poverty and addressing the climate emergency. And finally, it means working with others to tackle structural inequalities, exclusion, racial injustice, gender inequality and putting the most marginalised people first.
Work in partnership with NGOs
The relationship between the NGO sector and the FCDO has gotten off to a rocky start. Following on from a challenging but respectful working relationship with the department for international development (DFID), the lack of consultation around both the merger and the recent aid cuts and reduction from 0.7 have meant that the sector has not had similar relationships with the ministers in charge of the department.
The appointment of Liz Truss is an opportunity to reset this vital relationship so that our members are able to work in partnership with FCDO, in support of the most marginalised communities around the world.
Using the SDGs to tackle pressing crises
Both the climate crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic have shown us how interconnected the world is and how important the Sustainable Development Goals are in delivering a more equal and just society. Implementation of the Goals has to remain a priority, with a greater emphasis than the FCDO have previously shown towards them.
Bond and our members wish the Secretary of State the very best in her new role and we look forward to working in partnership to deliver a healthy, prosperous world for us all.