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Richard Harrington MP: Giving overseas aid is in Britain's interests

Harrington Richard August 2011Richard Harrington is the Member of Parliament for Watford.

Andrew Mitchell, Secretary of State for International Development appeared on the Andrew Marr show on Sunday to, yet again, defend the UK's overseas aid efforts. In the interview he revealed the new logo that DFID are using to publicise and brand the projects we are involved in. The logo is simple and cheap to create, comprising a Union Jack flag and a sentence advising all who read it, that the project is funded by the British taxpayer.

This is excellent news and something that I have been calling for for some time. As I wrote in an article on this website, exactly a year ago, following a visit to the DRC, Rwanda and Burundi, (there was)," a complete lack of branding of the fact that it was the UK that was giving Aid.". .....In nine days, seeing aid projects over thousands of miles I saw no signage indicating that it was the UK's taxpayers who provided the funding, whilst EU and American flags were abundant. The Union Jack was conspicuous by its absence; Indeed the previous Labour government had spent £100000 on a logo for DFID which had omitted the flag!

Questioning this upon my return I was given a number of seemingly spurious reasons for this. For example, a fear of accusations of 'tied aid', being accused of us 'blowing our own trumpet', and allegations of our aid programmes being neo-colonial.

This thinking suggests that the money we give and the work we do is in some way embarrassing, and something we should not be associated.

I believe that our expenditure of less than 1% of GNI on international development, can, even in these times, be justified entirely on moral grounds. Anyone who has seen the poverty and deprivation in so much of the world would agree. DFID's outcome based programmes, where results can be see-not, as the popular press may sometimes say, in terms of dictators jets, but in terms of schools, medical centres and intelligent development programmes, aimed at making countries self sufficient.

However, I understand that many people believe that the moral case is not enough. It is my contention that these aid efforts are in Britain's self interest and attaching the Union Jack can only help with this.

These programmes are in the very parts of the world which are developing into the very kind of 'emerging economies', which we are currently so weak in trading with. We are not only helping the economies develop, but we are establishing a tremendous amount of goodwill for ourselves. People who will become the consumers of tomorrow are establishing deep routed empathy for this country way beyond that which modern diplomacy can provide via traditional Foreign and Commonwealth office channels. The new logo, produced at no cost is a part of providing the very type of goodwill which will reap benefits for this country in the future.

It also goes a long way in combating criticism that previously DFID have operated as a NGO rather than a Government Department. Where the FCO operates they bear images of the UK so why not DFID?

In my article a year ago, I was concerned that we were not playing this card, however the 'branding announcement' made by the Secretary of State is an important factor in correcting this. The next phase must be for DFiD and their FCO colleagues to start encouraging British firms to contract in these countries, to the mutual benefit of our economy and the recipient country's alike.

Our Aid efforts are a real credit to everyone in this country, something we should be proud of here and abroad. Recent polling shows that the public are approving more and more of what the coalition has done on behalf of Britain to counter poverty, misery and deprivation. Future generations both here and overseas will reap the benefits and it is right that where British people's taxes are being spent their flag should be visible.


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