The UK Secretary of State for International development, Andrew Mitchell, gave his first major, setpiece speech in government on Thursday. The debate starts up again.
Mitchell was speaking at a meeting convened by Oxfam and the Policy Exchange and had three messages:
- To the poor of the world: “the people and Government of Britain are on your side;”
- To hardworking british taxpayers: Mitchell will concentrate on delivering and demonstrating value for money in international aid;
- To all those involved in international development: “Be prepared for change… a fundamental change that empowers people, that creates and sustains wealth rather than simply redistributing it.”
The central policy initiatives in his speech are that the government will create and independent aid watchdog and guarantee transparency in UK aid.
Good stuff and along the way he made a very well argued re-presentation of the case that overseas development aid is a moral and political priority, together with his insistence that the aid must be providd efficiently and effectively.
Nonetheless, the Guardian was ready to query whether the commitment to increase development aid to 0.7% of Gross National Income is as reliable as it sounds. And commenting on their editorial, I was moved to point out that in so many of the countries where UK aid is having the least impact (like everybody else’s aid), the problem is not just poverty but the linked issues of the shadow of armed violence and the debilitation inflicted by bad government. In opposition, Mitchell stressed these themes. It will be interesting to see how he picks them up and operationalises them in government.
One thought on “UK development aid: First major government speech”
Andrew Mitchell is in fact the first International Development Secretary to come to the job with over four years serious preparation for it, as shadow. His enthusiasm is in marked contrast to the downbeat acceptance of the job by its first holder 13 years ago.
I am glad Andrew Mitchell did not talk up the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). He is unfortunately unable to escape the commitments we shall continue to have to them until (by 2015) we shall be brought to face the fact that we have failed to achieve them.
Second, I wish the language of achievements could be put more soberly. What DfID does for primary education in developing countries is admirable but we don’t put all those pupils into school and keep them there all on our own; nor does the fact that it is dirt-cheap compared to educating the same number of children in the UK necessarily mean it’s value for money. It means what we give provides something at a very basic level indeed. Humility does no harm – it is, after all, teachers in poor countries that perform daily miracles, for which they are paid peanuts by their own governments, and sometimes in long arrears.
Third, bad governments will cook the books to prove their entitlement to results-based aid. The dilemma will keep on arising of assisting regimes which will not empower their citizens and will constrain their active participation in the aid system. What results will we demand of governance backsliders and how will we get reliable data?