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The Future of DFID

June 12, 2015

A few weeks before the election the Parliamentary Committee on International Development put out a report on The Future of UK Development Cooperation: Phase 2 Beyond Aid this was a sequel to a report specifically on aid.

The nature of international development is changing. The number of low income countries is falling. Within that group, most of the poorest countries—and overall, 22 out of DFID’s portfolio of 28 countries—are fragile states, requiring multiple and complex interventions. At the same time, the importance of global issues—conflict, climate, migration, trade, tax, financial stability, youth unemployment, urbanisation economic development, and infectious disease—is rising. These changes will be reflected in the new framework of Sustainable Development Goals to be adopted in 2015.

Aid remains essential for the poorest countries, and for some purposes in middle-income countries (MICs). It is encouraging that the UK has reached the 0.7% target. However, overall, a new approach is required which reflects the changing situation.

First, as aid is no longer provided to some MICs, such as India, new forms of co-operation have to be developed which facilitate links with UK institutions in a wide range of areas, including health, education, culture, law, culture and science. This will be labour-intensive, requiring DFID to put more emphasis on working with small organisations.

Second, policy coherence for development (PCD) is at the heart of a new approach. This means working across Government in the UK, and with global partners in the multilateral system, to maximise the impact on development of all the UK’s actions.

The report has some interesting discussion of how other countries organize their international development activities and it’s clear that DFID is an outlier – the trend in recent years has been for closer integration of aid with the MFA – indeed the whole thrust of the report is for closer cooperation with the FCO and with other parts of government. The solution that the Committee recommends is that

  • The UK maintains a free-standing and Cabinet-level Department for International Development which ensures that international development priorities are at the heart of government, and is appropriate for the UK.

  • Cross-Government working be improved. The security sector is a case in point. The National Security Council should take a broader view of threats to UK security, and ensure that development and conflict prevention be given the priority they deserve. There should be explicit strategies and policies, with clear responsibilities for delivery. Current experience with joint Ministers, joint units, cross-Government funds, and shared offices overseas, should be expanded.

  • DFID make policy coherence for development (PCD) a higher priority and make improvements to reporting and accountability. DFID needs to put PCD at the heart of its work, co-operating closely across Whitehall, and not treat it as an add on. The National Audit Office and the Independent Commission on Aid Impact should give a higher priority to PCD. The National Security Council should be fully accountable to select committees, via the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, and individual select committees.

As they say:

We believe DFID’s long-term future as a standalone ministry will be at risk unless stronger mechanisms to support cross-Government working on development are put in place.

There’s an irony here in that DFID has built its success on entrenching a view of development as poverty reduction, a view given legal status in the 2002 International Development Act but it’s now finding that this protection is becoming a straightjacket – particularly if they want to work with middle income countries this is beginning to fall into the kind of areas that the British Council would define as ‘cultural relations’. The other point is that the OECD definition of ODA is much less restrictive than the UK’s self-imposed definitions.

Of course as DFID has lots of money maybe they should mount a takeover of the FCO – it could use some cash, leadership and ideas.

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