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Blunt and brutal. But UN reform is possible. Blair, Brown and Benn can make it happen

Written by Simon Maxwell

I welcome the release of ‘Delivering as One’, the Report of the High Level Panel on UN Reform.   The Report is blunt and brutal.  That’s what happens when you commission a report from three serving Prime Ministers and have Gordon Brown on the team.

The Report criticises the incoherence, fragmentation and unpredictability of UN work on international development.  Quite right too, we can’t have 20 UN agencies in every country, all fighting for the Minister’s ear.  Nor can we expect the UN to do its job, when donors withhold funding and cherry-pick their favourite projects.

The Panel’s ideas are right.  One UN at country level, one management board internationally, one fund to provide the money.  This isn’t going to happen overnight, but the milestones in the Report are realistic.  There will be 40 countries doing this by 2010 and a complete roll-out by 2012.

What has to happen next?  The UK can provide an immediate lead:

Tony Blair should endorse the Report and announce that the Secretary of State for International Development, Hilary Benn, will immediately take charge of all UK government policy and funding for all UN agencies.  As the Report says, “Without coherent policy and leadership within national governments, disparate policies and fragmented implementation will undermine the effectiveness of multilateral organisations”.

Gordon Brown is a signatory of the Report.  He should endorse the recommendations and carry them through to the next comprehensive spending review, including in DFID’s Public Service Agreement.

Hilary Benn has the biggest contribution to make.  He should immediately announce financial support for the pilot country programmes and the longer-term roll-out, including the proposed central funding mechanism.  At the same time, he should deny funding outside this framework.  A White Paper should be published in 2007 on how the UK will reorganise support to the UN’s development, humanitarian and environment work.

The UK is recognised and respected for its leadership on international development.  An effective multilateral system is essential if we are to reach the Millennium Development Goals.  Putting UK leadership at the service of the United Nations is what we must do next.