Over the last two months Bond has been supporting the sector’s response to the government’s consultation on its UK International Development White Paper.
This has included organising a consultation event with Nick Dyer, the Second Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) and civil servants on 4th September, supporting Bond’s Working Groups to produce submissions and engaging with members to contribute to Bond’s formal submission. This blog sets out some of Bond’s views on the White Paper and the priorities of UK civil society that emerged through this process.
The White Paper process has been far from ideal, with the public consultation open only for seven weeks, most of which was over the summer holiday period. The message from the FCDO from the outset has been that the White Paper will not announce any additional resources (over the current UK aid budget of 0.5% of GNI), which is deeply disappointing given the devastating effects of recent UK aid cuts.
Nevertheless, this White Paper and the consultation process has been widely welcomed by the sector. This will be the first government White Paper on international development since 2009 and it is long overdue. Recent UK international development strategies have been thin on detail, neglected key issues (including how the UK will prioritise tackling extreme poverty and the SDGs) and failed to reflect on how UK aid partnerships need to change to promote equity and locally-led development. There was also no official consultation process for the UK International Development Strategy (published in May 2022), and few civil society priorities were taken on-board in producing this strategy.
At the consultation event, it was important to hear from Nick Dyer that a core priority of the White Paper will be to rebuild the UK’s development partnerships and evolve the ‘how’ of UK international development efforts to build trust and deepen impact.
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A number of common themes for the UK government to prioritise in the White Paper emerged through the discussions at the consultation event and member inputs to our submission. Amongst these themes, six stood out, including the need to:
- Renew and reshape UK global leadership – Bond’s members are eager for the UK to reverse its recent retreat from the world stage, and to reengage with a range of global partners to help address pressing sustainable development challenges. However, this leadership role should involve helping to make global governance more inclusive and finding solutions that meet the needs of all countries and stakeholder groups.
- Promote more equitable and locally-led development partnerships – There is a consensus that development partnerships must evolve to ensure they empower local communities to identify and pursue their own priorities and solutions. More equitable and locally-led partnerships are required not only to build trust, address power imbalances and advance anti-racism, but also to secure more sustainable impact. The White Paper must set out the funding, partnership and policy approaches that will help to ensure UK aid partnerships evolve in this way.
- Refocus UK aid on tackling extreme poverty and marginalisation – In recent years there has been decreasing emphasis of UK aid on addressing the needs of people living in extreme poverty and facing marginalisation. This is illustrated by the declining share of UK aid going to the lowest income countries and deepening faith that economic growth alone cannot meet the needs of the most marginalised people. The White Paper should re-establish tackling extreme poverty and marginalisation as a core priority of the UK aid programme, and identify new mechanisms, policies and approaches for supporting these efforts.
- Make sustainable development and meeting the SDGs a cross-government responsibility – UK aid alone cannot tackle sustainable development challenges. However, the UK’s international commitments on sustainable development have not been taken seriously across government and there is no institutionalised mechanism for ensuring that all relevant government departments are focussed on and held accountable for contributing to delivery. It is therefore vital that the White Paper sets out clearly how all relevant government departments and policy levers – including debt, investment, trade, research & development and migration – will help to support sustainable development and introduce a cross-government mechanism for tracking delivery and accountability.
- Pursue an integrated approach to development, climate and nature solutions – Development and environment issues are fundamentally intertwined, and therefore a fully integrated approach to tackling these challenges is required. There needs to be an end to addressing these challenges in silos, and the White Paper must provide a clear vision for an integrated approach.
- Promote resilience and anticipatory responses to natural disasters and conflict – Natural disasters and conflicts have devastating impacts on communities and can reverse decades of development progress. However, the support for improving the resilience of communities; developing early warning systems and preparedness for disasters; and peacebuilding and conflict prevention can help to limit or avoid these impacts. The White Paper should champion these responses.
Bond is eager to see the emergence of a White Paper that addresses these priorities, which will ensure that it adds genuine value to the UK’s international development efforts and allows existing resources to go further in support of sustainable development.