• Sunday, May 29, 2022

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UK reviews overseas aid strategy under new merged ministry

Dominic Raab has pledged to make the streets safer for women at night. (Photo by Peter Summers/Getty Images)

By: Sarwar Alam

The UK government has launched a review of its overseas aid budget allocations to ensure greater value for taxpayer funds as part of its new ministry merging its foreign and aid ministries.

The new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), which formally launches on Wednesday, combines the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and Department for International Department (DfID) under Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plans for a new “super department” announced in June to closely align aid with foreign policy goals.

UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab, as the head of the FCDO, has charged the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) to prioritise producing “tangible, evidence-based” recommendations to ministers to drive effective overseas development spending.

“We are integrating our aid budget with our diplomatic clout in the new FCDO to maximise the impact of our foreign policy,” said Raab in a statement this weekend.

“That’s why I want to reinforce the role of ICAI, to strengthen further transparency and accountability in the use of taxpayers’ money and relentlessly focus our Global Britain strategy on policies and in areas that deliver the most value,” he said.

The minister said he wants ICAI to become “a committee for what works” in development. The FCDO said it will use the rigorous evaluation conducted by ICAI to determine how the UK aid can be better spent, based on what the evidence shows is most effective for tackling poverty and global challenges like diseases, climate changes and humanitarian disasters.

While the UK has a development aid relationship with several countries, it had concluded a conventional aid programme for India at the end of 2015, instead focusing on a project-led approach aimed at strengthening India-UK ties.

The new review will look at how ministers can engage more with ICAI, to make sure the watchdog’s independent recommendations lead to better decision-making and significant, lasting change at every level of the new department.

ICAI’s remit will also continue to include UK aid spent by other government departments, such as the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and the Department of Health and Social Care.

Under the ministerial merger plans, Johnson has committed to giving UK aid new prominence within the country’s international policy and Raab will be empowered to make decisions on aid spending in line with the UK’s priorities overseas, harnessing the skills, expertise and evidence that have earned our reputation as a leader in the international development community.

Sir Philip Barton, the British High Commissioner to India, will be second in command of the ministry after he was promoted as the Permanent Under-Secretary of the newly-formed ministry.

Raab’s review, expected to start later in September, will be carried out by senior FCDO officials in consultation with ICAI, alongside independent external experts. It will also take into account the outcomes of the Integrated Review, which is currently looking at the UK’s foreign, defence, security and international development policy.

The findings of the ICAI review are expected to be published at the end of the year as the UK prepares for its G7 presidency and to host the United Nations COP26 climate summit next year, the FCDO said.

ICAI was established in 2011 to provide additional assurance to the UK taxpayer that UK aid is being spent well, has an impact globally and provides value for money.

The watchdog supports Parliament in holding the UK government to account on its aid spending, the FCDO added.

Dubbed the biggest review of Britain’s foreign, defence and development policy since the end of the Cold War, Johnson wants the new foreign-cum-aid department to help strengthen the UK’s position in an “intensely competitive world by making sensible changes”.

The government is bound by a legislative commitment to contribute 0.7 per cent of GDP to international aid.

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