Refreshed DFID aid strategy targets fragile states and VFM

24 Nov 15

The UK Department for International Development has overhauled its overseas aid strategy, targeting half of all funding on fragile states and placing a stronger focus on value for money.

Overseas aid is one of the few public spending areas that has been protected from cuts. Ministers have been clear that they intend to maintain spending 0.7% of gross national income on official development assistance (ODA), in line with the United Nations target, and made clear that this was in the UK’s own interests as well as poor and developing nations.

In a joint statement, chancellor George Osborne and international development secretary Justine Greening said: “We believe this fundamental shift in how we use 0.7% of our national income will show there is no distinction between reducing poverty, tackling global challenges and serving our national interest ‒ all are inextricably linked.

“We will ensure that every penny of money spent delivers value for taxpayers, and projects that do not will be cancelled.”

A new DFID strategy sets out how the spending will shift so aid goes to where it is deemed most effective and most in line with the UK’s national interests.

“With this new strategy, Britain can be proud to be a country that not only meets its responsibilities to the world’s poorest, but in doing so best serves and protects its own security and interests,” Osborne and Greening added.

The strategy puts forward four objectives that will shape all of the UK’s aid spending: peace, security and governance; resilience and crisis response; the promotion of prosperity; the tackling of extreme poverty and help for the most vulnerable.

Specific pledges include focusing 50% of all DFID spending on fragile states and regions, while aid spending in Syria and the surrounding region is also to increase.

There will also be specific funds for the development of vaccines and antibiotics, an increase in climate financing and investment in anti-poverty and energy initiatives.

In addition, an increase in value for money is prioritised. As part of this, general budget support will be stopped and replaced with targeted forms of finance and measures to increase transparency in aid spending will be introduced. The number of Whitehall departments involved in ODA will also increase, the strategy said.

Amid the cuts, other departments are reported to have bid for a share of ODA funds to back research & development or diplomatic efforts. Campaigners noted that while the spreading out of ODA across government can contribute to good causes overseas, it also eases the pressure for struggling government departments at home who benefit from extra funding.

Diane Shard, UK Director of advocacy group The ONE Campaign, said she was concerned spreading responsibility for UK aid beyond DFID “risks playing with fire”.

The UK’s “strong international reputation” and good aid track record must not be undermined by “diluting the focus of aid” away from its core purpose of reducing poverty, she said.

Others have added that use of the funding by some departments might push the boundaries of ODA, as defined by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. The UK is lobbying in the OECD to develop ODA rules, for example to include more projects related to defence and security. 

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