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The UK's Comprehensive Spending Review: priority 'asks' for international development


Smart aid works and development delivers real results for real people. This was the message of last evening’s Living Proof event hosted by ONE and starring Bill and Melinda Gates. The format was upbeat and designed to inspire. There was also a lot of positive messaging about the UK’s support for international development: from taking a lead role in global campaigns such as Jubilee 2000 and Make Poverty History to securing cross-party commitment to 0.7 and providing critical funding to global initiatives such as the Global Alliance on Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) and the Global Fund against Aids,TB and Malaria (GFATM). 

And the timing was great. With the government about to announce the outcome of the Strategic Defence Review this afternoon, and the Comprehensive Spending Review tomorrow, the event was a great shot in the arm for Andrew Mitchell and his team at DFID who have been making the case for not only continued, but increased, financial support for international development. 

So what kind of settlement for development can we hope for as part of the combined reviews? What would make sense in these ‘difficult economic times’.  We’ll know imminently, but what might be the priority ‘asks’?

  1. A clear sense of how and when the 0.7%/GNI target will be met and under what assumptions for future growth in GNI.
  2. A clear message on frontloading versus backloading. What will be the shape of the ‘aid spending curve’ over the next three years?  If the plan is to backload most of the increases in aid to meet 0.7 in 2013, what will take the strain in the intervening years and where will most of the growth come in 2013?
  3. A clear message on sticking to the spirit and letter of the International Development Act and the OECD/DAC definition of official development assistance (ODA). Ultimately this is what protects the integrity and reputation of UK aid spending and ensures that nefarious claims wishing to change the rules around aid spending for poverty reduction are ruled out of bounds.
  4. A clear message that DFID will remain in the driving seat of the UK’s development programme. There is no escaping the fact that the international development agenda is increasingly shaped by a new set of global risks, of which the changing climate and the changing pattern of conflict/violence are perhaps the biggest two.  In responding, the UK must work more effectively across the ‘whole of government’ to bring together its work on climate, trade, immigration and security.  But the agenda must be, above all, development-led. This means ensuring that DFID maintains substantial control of the UK’s policy positioning on development and of its aid budget.   

It is worth remembering that the backdrop to the UK’s fiscal crisis was a global financial crisis of a scale not seen since the 1930s. The effect was lost jobs and lost livelihoods around the world. While the focus today and tomorrow will be on how the UK can get its own fiscal house in order, we must not forget that the UK’s prosperity now and in the future is inextricably bound up with the fortunes not just of our OECD partners but also the emerging economies of Asia, Africa and Latin America. We ignore this fact at our peril.