Andrew Mitchell has a solid plan to get more and more of UK aid to the poorest, hungriest people of the world
"Through my seat at Cabinet and on the National Security Council I will be making sure that development voice is clearly heard and other policy areas are properly aligned. And I am determined to ensure that, as well as growing DFID's spend, effective, poverty-focussed Official Development Assistance spent by other Departments is also maintained. So I will work closely with Cabinet colleagues to ensure that DFID supports and protects legitimate aid spending across Government. For example I have this week reviewed the official aid spending administered by the FCO. I believe that much of this spending is very valuable, and I am working with Colleagues to ensure that it continues to be financed out of our expanding official development assistance budget. But crucially, I will insist all aid spending is subjected to the same rigorous independent evaluation which we will apply to DFID spending."
In other words spending from the unprotected FCO budget will become part of the protected DFID budget. There are two ways of looking at this. One is to worry that FCO spending is being smuggled into the DFID budget (although Mr Mitchell insists that the money is genuinely developmental). The other is to be glad that money aimed at fighting global poverty won't be cut as part of FCO cuts but will continue.
The Coalition's pledge to continue aid spending in unpopular (among the Tory grassroots and within the public at large) but there is plenty in the Mitchell agenda that we can all support. I'd highlight five very welcome things he has done since becoming Secretary of State:
- He stopped £6.5m of spending within the UK to raise awareness of development issues. That £6.5m will instead be going directly to poor people. UK charities and broadcasters do enough "aid awareness" without help from the taxpayer.
- He established an independent aid watchdog and is introducing greater transparency of UK aid spending so we can all check money isn't going to corrupt dictators. This policy was welcomed by a massive 97% of Tory members.
- He announced a review of UK contributions to the World Bank, UN and other multilateral organisations. ConHome will be watching this review with interest. Experience suggests that organisations like the EU are less good at keeping an eye on aid spending than democratically accountable governments. I hope the proportion of UK taxpayers' money controlled by DFID and its new transparency and audit procedures will grow substantially under the Coalition.
- The UK's bilateral aid will be re-focused on poorer countries. Aid to China will be phased out "as soon as practical and responsible". [In opposition I remember a commitment to target more aid on Commonwealth nations. I don't know if this is still true under the LibCon deal.]
- Mr Mitchell (supported by his junior ministers, Alan Duncan and Stephen O'Brien) is cutting fat from the DFID bureaucracy. This includes renting out two floors of the DFID office building and cutting spending on HR, IT, travel and other corporate services. £14m has been saved so far as first steps towards saving £100m and redirecting that to poverty-fighting projects.