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Mark Pritchard MP: The Government is right to protect the International Aid budget

Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard MP is Secretary of the 1922 Committee and Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party’s International Office. In this Platform piece he calls for support for the Government’s plan to increase and protect DfID spending – arguing there is a security imperative for doing so.

What happens ‘over there’ does matter over here. That is why the Prime Minister is right to increase and protect Britain’s aid budget – even at a time of austerity at home.

The Coalition does have its DfID doubters.  But those colleagues need to understand that DfID’s role is increasingly strategic and is inextricably linked to the vital work undertaken by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence in safeguarding Britain’s national security.

This is not a ‘securitisation’ of DfID’s budget, the charge from the Opposition, but rather an overdue recognition that development and national security need to be complementary and better co-ordinated; in turn, reducing the number of fragile states becoming failed states and diminishing the number of lawless ungoverned spaces emerging as the breeding ground of franchised global terror.  It is welcome news the Development Secretary now sits on the National Security Council. This innovation, led by the Prime Minister, will help deliver a more robust and integrated approach to Britain’s national security policy.

That is why DfID’s extension into ‘conflict prevention’, capacity building, and governance training, is also welcome. It is often the lack of governance capacity, at regional and local government level, not just nationally, which can block economic and social advancement - even amongst the more stable of developing countries.

Conflict prevention is also smart economics. A leading academic at Oxford University has rightly identified that the cost of civil war for example, in a single low income country, costs more than half the value of the annual global aid budget.  Self evidently, and empirically, prevention is better than cure.

But good governance and stable government is not a panacea. As Secretary Mitchell rightly identified in his speech to the Royal College of Defence Studies in September: “Elections alone do not create a free and democratic society”. That is why funding for conflict ‘resolution’ is also needed.

Many post-conflict countries, even if they emerge with free and democratic elections, are often locked in stalemate for years, holding back jobs and foreign investment. DfID also needs to work with more closely with international donors and partner agencies to identify and replicate proven reconciliation models and ensure sufficient resources are allocated to post war dialogue as well.

By increasing its aid budget Britain is ‘doing the right thing’; action which is noticed by the international community - given most aid pledges are broken. The Prime Minister’s commitment to increase overseas aid to £12.6 billion, 0.7% of gross national income by 2013, is not only a virtuous example of the Government keeping its promises but an act of national altruism that will produce tangible life-changing results for millions of people. In the 150 countries DFID operates, this spending boost will help deliver key government objectives in meeting Millennium Development Goals such as: tackling preventable diseases, reducing child mortality rates, and empowering women. It will also help reduce non-EU migration.

For the critics of DfID’s account; they must first weigh the direct costs against the litany of indirect costs – domestic and international.

In addition to continuing to feed the poor, house the homeless, and providing medical care to the sick, it is encouraging that DfID is, at long last, looking increasingly upstream - to the root cause of problems, rather than merely responding to, and tending, inexhaustible ‘downstream’ symptoms.

Notwithstanding, self sufficiency and economic stability will never be achieved through aid alone. That is why the Prime Minister’s commitment to concluding the Doha round is absolutely vital. A successful conclusion to the Doha round would increase global trade by up to $300 billion - double the current global aid budget.

It is future enterprise and innovation that will create the long term prosperity and wealth needed to grow countries out of poverty and help them to break free from aid dependency. DfID should expand its micro-finance schemes to help kick-start small and medium sized businesses. These schemes should include a defined and well-resourced ‘empowering women’ agenda.

With more aid comes the need for more transparency and accountability. This is right and proper. UK taxpayers also, and correctly, welcome a greater emphasis on aid outputs – not just inputs. The Government’s new UK Aid Transparency Guarantee, giving greater access to DfID’s spending, is another major step in the coalition’s ‘openness’ agenda. The establishment of an independent body to gather evidence on the effectiveness of DfID programmes will also, and helpfully, address some of the concerns of the government’s aid sceptics.

Under the visionary leadership of Andrew Mitchell, the government is overseeing a quiet revolution in the way in DfID does its business. Modernisation that is long overdue and an approach that will not only help some of the world’s poorest people – but will also make Britain safer.


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