At this time of austerity, the Department for International Development (DfID) sensibly recognises that it has a ‘heightened responsibility’ to ensure maximum value from every pound spent on overseas aid. In 2011, DfID announced that it had ended aid to 16 countries that it believes no longer require it, such as Russia, and adopted new financial relationships with middle-income countries, such as India (aid frozen at its current level for four years). This has proved a popular move with the public and a continued sensitivity by the Ministers at DfID to public opinion explains the reticence to enshrine in law one of the Coalition Agreement’s headline commitments: to spend 0.7% of GNI on overseas aid.
All of this effort to keep the public on-side must mean that recent criticism from the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee that the Government is still giving millions to four poorly performing aid organisations, despite a major review last year, will have cut deeply. MPs on the Committee have called on the Department to point ‘its funding gun’ at the heads of these organisations and demand that they immediately improve the performance of their programmes.
Despite this, the Coalition Government has undoubtedly made strides into achieving its more measurable pledges around transparency of funding. For example, making information about where money is spent more available by introducing the UK Aid Transparency Guarantee and setting up the Independent Commission for Aid Impact to provide external scrutiny of all aid spending. The Government has also made some impressive progress in other areas, such as backing its commitment to reduce maternal and infant mortality by the provision of significant levels of funding for projects in these areas. The UK Aid Match pilot scheme, launched in 2011 can also be seen as something of a success, although the money involved is only a small fraction of the overall international development budget.
A number of the pledges set out in the 2010 Coalition Agreement require ongoing work and may not easily be considered completed. However, looking ahead, the Government will want to see the International Arms Trade Treaty finalised and made legally binding. It will also be pushing for an increase in UK private investment in Africa – a key priority for the International Development Secretary, Justine Greening. She believes that economic growth is needed for sustained reduction in levels of poverty and more needs to be done than simply putting basic services in place. Government will be looking towards organisations, such as the Confederation of British Industry, to help push forward this agenda.
Progress against the Coalition Agreement
Pledge: We will honour our commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI on overseas aid from 2013, and to enshrine this commitment in law.
Status: Not achieved – Although the Government is expected to meet this target this year, weaker than expected economic growth means that this percentage will be worth less in cash terms. It has not yet enshrined this commitment in law due to concerns that the public would not want this to be pushed through in the current economic climate. In response to this, a Private Member’s Bill has been introduced by Mark Hendrick MP and is awaiting a date for its second reading In the House of Commons.
Pledge: We will encourage other countries to fulfil their aid commitments.
Status: In progress – Progress towards this commitment is very difficult to assess. Whilst the Government has said that it is continuing to push on the importance of accountability reporting on aid pledges and the need to improve the quality of aid and other development finance, there is no concrete evidence to support this.
Pledge: We will support actions to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. In particular, we will prioritise aid spending on programmes to ensure that everyone has access to clean water, sanitation, healthcare and education; to reduce maternal and infant mortality; and to restrict the spread of major diseases like HIV/ AIDS, TB and malaria. We will recognise the vital role of women in development, promote gender equality and focus on the rights of women, children and disabled people to access services.
Status: Done - The Government has prioritised wealth creation, conflict prevention and climate change in its work towards the Millennium Development Goals. It also launched a ‘Strategic Vision for Girls and Women’ in March 2011, and says that it played a leading role in the Commission on the Status of Women’s agreement to adopt a declaration urging an end to violence against women and girls in March 2013. Additional measures from the Government to support women and children were announced earlier this year by the International Development Secretary, Justine Greening, ahead of International Women’s Day.
Pledge: We will use the aid budget to support the development of local democratic institutions, civil society groups, the media and enterprise; and support efforts to tackle corruption.
Status: In progress – The Government says that in 2011/12, it supported freer and fairer elections in four countries. However, last year the UK Independent Commission on Aid said that the UK aid for overseas elections had ‘failed to deliver long term benefits’.
Pledge: We will introduce full transparency in aid and publish details of all UK aid spending online. We will push for similarly high levels of transparency internationally.
Status: Done – The Government has introduced the UK Aid Transparency Guarantee, putting information into the public domain on all aid spending over £500. In addition, the Government has set up an Independent Commission for Aid Impact to provide external scrutiny and which reports to Parliament. Despite these steps, critics have argued that as DfID works as a commissioning agency, using many contractors and sub-contractors, these groups also need to be encouraged to open up their books in this way.
Pledge: We will create new mechanisms to give British people a direct say in how an element of the aid budget is spent.
Status: Done - The Government launched the UK Aid Match pilot scheme in 2011, which has seen 18 public appeals match funded by the Government, directing the use of £40 million of the aid budget. Critics have argued that the money involved is too small, however it has nonetheless provided a new mechanism as promised.
Pledge: We will keep aid untied from commercial interests, and will maintain DfID as an independent department focused on poverty reduction.
Status: Done – The Government has stated that aid has remained untied and DfID is still an independent department.
Pledge: We will stick to the rules laid down by the OECD about what spending counts as aid.
Status: Done – The Government has committed to the OECD Development Assistance Committee reporting directives on overseas development aid eligibility. In addition, it is an active member of Development Assistance Committee meetings on overseas development aid eligibility.
Pledge: We will push hard in 2010 to make greater progress in tackling maternal and infant mortality.
Status: Done – The Prime Minister helped negotiate a global G8 agreement in June 2010 that the World Health Organization and World Bank believe could help prevent 1.3 million deaths of children under five and 64,000 maternal deaths in developing countries.
Pledge: We will work to accelerate the process of relieving Heavily Indebted Poor Countries of their debt.
Status: In progress – This commitment is tricky for the Government to achieve. Whilst it is committed to ensuring appropriate support is provided as countries progress through the system, it is not clear what the Government has done to specifically accelerate the process.
Pledge: We will support efforts to establish an International Arms Trade Treaty to limit the sales of arms to dangerous regimes.
Status: In progress – The Government helped to build consensus in the Arms Trade Treaty negotiations in July 2012 and participated in the Arms Trade Treaty Diplomatic Conference in March 2013 to finalise this work. However, the UK was given a low score in the Center for Global Development’s Commitment to Development Index as a result of ‘high levels of arms sales to poor and undemocratic countries’.
Pledge: We will support pro-development trade deals, including the proposed Pan-African Free Trade Area.
Status: Done – The Government published a White Paper,Trade and Investment for Growth, in 2011, which set out support for pro-development trade deals and included the launch of the UK’s Africa Free Trade Initiative. The Government has alsoset up a dedicated Private Sector Department within DfID, and provided approximately £1 billion a year in aid for trade funding.
Pledge: We will support innovative and effective smaller British non-governmental organisations that are committed to tackling poverty.
Status: Done – The Government has launched the Global Poverty Action Fund, with £40 million of grants annually going to small British not-for-profit organisations.
Pledge: We will explore ways of helping the very poorest developing countries to take part in international climate change negotiations.
Status: Done - The Coalition launched an Advocacy Fund in September 2011 to strengthen the involvement of poorer countries in climate change negotiations. This fund includes £10 million, some of which has gone towards logistical support for delegates. Critics have argued that support also needs to be targeted at helping people directly affected by climate change at a community level, as well as supporting discussions at a high level.
Pledge: We will ensure that UK Trade and Investment and the Export Credits Guarantee Department become champions for British companies that develop and export innovative green technologies around the world, instead of supporting investment in dirty fossil-fuel energy production.
Status: In progress – The Government says that it has actively promoted its services available for companies in the green technologies sector, while only supporting projects that meet the relevant international standards. However, in 2011 a national newspaper published an article stating that projects supported by the Government had included coal mining in Siberia, signalling that the Government had broken its green pledge. More needs to be done by the Government to show real progress on this commitment.
Pledge: We will provide a more integrated approach to post-conflict reconstruction where the British military is involved – building on the Stabilisation Unit in Whitehall and creating a new Stabilisation and Reconstruction Force to bridge the gap between the military and the reconstruction effort.
Status: Done – The Government published its Building Stability Overseas Strategy in 2011, which sets out its integrated approach to post-conflict resolution. The Government believes that the Stabilisation Unit ‘performed strongly’ in deploying civilian support to the transition in Afghanistan, and it brought together military and civilian experts in the Stabilisation Response Team deployed to Libya in 2011.
Pledge: We will review what action can be taken against ‘vulture funds’.
Status: Done – The Government has legislated to permanently stop vulture funds.
Pledge: We will support reform of global financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in order to increase the involvement of developing nations.
Status: In progress – The Government says that it played an important role in ensuring a ‘competitive process’ for the appointment of the World Bank President in 2012. However, the International Monetary Fund has yet to implement its package of reforms approved in 2010 and ratified by the UK in 2011.