The merger of the Foreign Office and Department for International Development means we can truly deliver a Global Britain and get Aid working again.
The debate around Foreign Aid is one that brings out strong feelings on both sides of the debate. Should we really be spending 0.7% of our GDP on schemes halfway around the world when we face such grave challenges at home. This is an argument I am sympathetic to. However, if done correctly, Foreign Aid can be a force for good. It can be the bridge between domestic and international policies, the perfect tool to protect our country and our people from global threats and be a great source of soft power. However, this does not mean that there are not serious issues with our current Foreign Aid policy that means we neither achieve our aims nor make the best use of our Foreign Aid budget and the Prime Minister’s merger of the two departments will help tackle these problems..
The main issue with Foreign Aid, at the moment, is that it is so disjointed from our domestic and international policy aims. Foreign Aid could be the perfect tool for this Government to make good on the desire to leave the Environment in a better position for future generations and if done correctly then Foreign Aid could be the perfect bridge between our domestic net zero target and our international policy which could be used to pursue a greener future. We must face up to the fact that the UK only contributes to about 2% of global emissions and whilst the steps we are making on a domestic level are certainly credit worthy, we must be part of a global push to actually ensure a greener future if we want to fulfill our environmental goals as well as using this as an opportunity to expand our soft power and become leaders in the Green Tech industry, the industry of the future, which will allow us to truly not only become a Global Britain once again but a major world player whilst also preparing our economy for the future. In order to do this, we must help developing nations cut down on their own emissions whilst allowing them to continue their vital development in a way that doesn’t generate huge emissions as they simply can not afford to do this alone and if we are truly serious about using Brexit to become a more global nation then we have an opportunity to actually follow through with this by bringing our foreign policy in line with our domestic policy and using our Foreign Aid budget as the bridge between the two and the merging of the departments ensures this coherence between the two that doesn’t seem to exist at the moment when we are investing in Space Programs of other countries without any perceived benefit for us, the advancing of our country or our policy interests.
The second issue is the arbitrary target of 0.7%. Setting targets like this leads to wasteful spending in the pursuit of the target set. Instead of concentrating spending on projects, countries and sectors that form part of our Foreign Policy goals or that can actually lead to empowering some of the poorest communities across the globe, the 0.7% target leads to investment in what can only be described as vanity projects. Take Aid in Nigeria, as an example. The poorest in Nigeria live on just over $1 a day and a quality education is sparse and very hard to come by especially for girls within the country. Given that successive Governments have championed the pledge to provide a quality education for all girls up to the age of 14, you might expect to hear that a large amount of UKAid within Nigeria went towards fulfilling this pledge. However, due to the way aid is administered through national Governments, UKAid was spent on a Nigerian satellite system that did very little, if anything at all, to provide this quality education or help lift people out of poverty.
There are many legitimate concerns with having the administering of Aid and that main concern is primarily around handing money to corrupt Governments who then misspend aid as well as aid not actually hitting our targets. There is, however, a solution to this and that is to spend Foreign Aid through vetted Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) who’s aims align with the policies we are seeking to pursue and in doing this, you remove the need to hand money over to corrupt leaders, ensure money is well spent and achieve our aims and ensure that local communities around the world and not the pockets of World Leaders are the ones reaping the benefits. The merging of the departments allows us to reset the conversation around Aid and actually make the substantial reforms necessary to make it the force for good that it really can be.
In an ideal world this merger would not be necessary. The skills needed to oversee aid projects aren’t necessarily the primary skills of Diplomats and the separation of the two departments allowed for us to bring in the best of both fields to the relevant department to make both work. However, for this to succeed it would require both departments to communicate and bring policy decisions together to utilise both departments sets of skills for the good of our Foreign policy but as I’m sure most are aware, communication between Government departments leaves much to be desired and it is for that very reason that the steps taken to firstly, begin the merger of the ministers between the two, and this has, by most accounts, led to the greater cooperation between the two departments and a greater coherence in policy decisions and the merging of the two departments will, if done correctly, will allow us to properly utilise the talent Britain has in both fields. However, as many have warned, we can not expect Diplomats to lead Aid work and we can not expect those who do great work leading Aid projects to conduct diplomacy as part of this merger otherwise it will undermine our attempts to become the Global Britain that the Government has promised.
This Government is promising a Global Britain, in fact it was this very reason that so many including myself believe in Brexit, and if we really want to be a Global Britain then we must understand the importance of Foreign Aid. If used correctly then it can prove to be a vital tool to expand British soft power, pursue the interests of our country and our people on the global stage. The merger and removal of the 0.7% target will make our Foreign Policy more coherent, our spending less wasteful and more targeted and if we use this as the opportunity to reset the conversation about Foreign Aid and use it as an opportunity to better make the case for why Aid works and reform the way it is administered to no longer line the pockets of some world leaders then we can make our country a global player once again and so I strongly support the Prime Minister’s decision to merge the Department for International Development into the Foreign Office and hope that the opportunity will be seized from this to get Foreign Aid working properly once again.