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GREENING JUSTINEThe fifth piece in our series looking at the arguments for and against international aid is by Justine Greening MP, Secretary of State for International Development.

This
week, the UN announced that the number of refugees fleeing Syria had passed 2
million, 1 million of them children. It is a dreadful reminder that the real
victims of Assad’s assault on his own people are the civilians who have had to
leave their homes, often with literally no more than the clothes on their
backs. These people are utterly reliant on the generosity of neighbouring
countries like Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey, and on support from the
international community.

Britain
can be proud of our role in providing this humanitarian support. We will not
forget the plight of refugees. Nor will we stand back and wait for the pressure
on surrounding countries to become unbearable as thousands of new people arrive
every day needing food, water, shelter and medical attention.


But
clearly Britain cannot do this alone. Syrians need the rest of the world to
step up to the plate.  That’s why the Prime Minister is using the G20
meetings in Russia today to push for a much more ambitious and coordinated
international response.

Since
the beginning of the Syria conflict, support from British taxpayers has made a
huge difference to people’s lives. Even more importantly, it is helping
neighbouring countries to cope with the influx of refugees. That is vital for
regional security and firmly in British interests. Antonio Guterres of UNHCR
has that we risk failing a generation of Syrian children. The international
community must do all it can to stop that from happening.

The
recent events in Syria show powerfully why it is important that DFID is working
with the Foreign Office to promote peace and stability. No country can develop
when it is engaged in conflict. The costs of war for a country’s people and
economy are massive and can hold them back for decades. That is why it is right
for us to focus an increasing proportion of our development spending in fragile
and conflict-affected states like Afghanistan and Somalia.

As I
look back over the last year in International Development I am proud that it is
under a Conservative Prime Minister that this year the UK is meeting, for the
first time ever, the target of spending 0.7% of GNI on international
development. In Syria and around the world Britain has helped people get their
lives back on track after humanitarian disasters and to build a better future
for themselves and their children.

But I
have said from the start that I want DFID to have a clear sense of Britain’s
national interest. The development budget must be an investment in the future –
for the developing world of course, but also for people in Britain. It means
shaping a future where Britain benefits from a more stable and secure world and
is better placed to share in the economic growth happening in the next wave of
emerging economies.

When
your budget is protected, you need to work even harder to make sure that every
pound counts for the British taxpayer. That is why this year I announced the
end of aid to India and South Africa as they have become more capable of
financing their own development plans, and suspended aid to Uganda when we had
concerns over corruption issues. I also strengthened financial controls, put in
place a tougher procurement approach for our suppliers and made sure that
ministers now sign off business cases and contracts.

The
other big change I wanted to see at DFID was a new focus on economic
development. Traditionally development agencies and NGOs were often most
comfortable building basic services like water and sanitation. Britain is world
class at that kind of work and we will keep doing it.

But
to my mind one of the lessons of Labour’s disastrous management of the UK
economy was that you can’t focus on the public sector and ignore the private
sector. If public services are to thrive you need businesses creating jobs and
a robust tax system to ensure a long term funding stream of investment for
them.

This
is not news to developing country leaders. As Liberian president Ellen Johnson
Sirleaf said last year, “aid is not an alternative to self-sufficiency”.

So I
have made it my business to work with business. After all, it will be the
emerging economies of developing nations which will be the most important
trading partners of the future. That is why over the last few months DFID has
opened its doors to the CBI, to retailers, to engineering firms and extractive
companies. I think it is right that we help them when they want to improve
their value chains to have a bigger development impact, and that we play our
role tackling barriers to trade that are stopping them from working in certain
countries and creating prosperity there.

British
companies have some of the world’s best known brands and some of the most
forward-thinking corporate policies, so there is a huge opportunity to help
build up responsible trade with the emerging economies. We’re not doing anyone
a favour leaving the economic coast clear to those with lower standards than
our own.

At
the same time DFID has now  teamed up with HMRC to help developing
countries build up their own tax bases so that ultimately they can fund their
own development. This means the UK provides technical expertise to developing
countries to help them establish the tax revenues to invest in their own future
– which is exactly what they should be doing.

And
of course running through all our work is a focus on women and girls. If they
are locked out of education, or work, or decision-making, their potential will
be wasted, as no country can lift itself out of poverty if half its population
is excluded.

I
don’t think it is an option for Britain to shut up shop and disengage from the
world around us. Just as you can’t ignore what’s happening in your own
neighbourhood outside your front door, as a country Britain can’t ignore what
happens around the world.. What happens around the world affects us more now
than ever before.

DFID’s
work stops people dying from preventable diseases and famine, and provides
emergency help following natural disasters, but it is also very much in our
national interest to build a more peaceful and stable world.

We can either be involved in the world that we want, and reap the
rewards alongside accepting the responsibilities, or sit back and watch while
others dictate Britain’s fate. Shape or be shaped by events – it’s our choice.

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