By Tim Montgomerie
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Justine Greening is getting a lot of public advice at the moment. After seven years in which Tory aid policy has been shaped by Andrew Mitchell – five years in opposition, two years in government – there's a sense that the new Development Secretary might embark upon a new direction. Lord Ashcroft certainly hopes so. In an open letter published on these pages on Monday he argued that aid wasn't just expensive at a time of austerity but often counter-productive.
A second open letter arrives on Miss Greening's doormat today. This time from Sir Tony Baldry MP.
Sir Tony argues that Britain can be very proud of its world leading status in hitting the UN's target of giving 0.7% of GDP to the poorest people in the world. "It," Mr Baldry writes, "has helped reduce the number of children who die before
their fifth birthday by 4 million since 1990 and the number of people receiving
HIV medication has also increased tenfold as a result of aid assistance."
The former Chairman of the Development Select Committee continues:
"Aid contributes to economic growth by giving millions more
children an education: so far it has put 33 million more children in the
classroom. In doing so, these children have been given opportunities they would
not otherwise have had. Money from DFID also helps build the necessary
infrastructure to support this economic growth such as transport networks. In
2012-15, DFID will also help 77.6 million people access formal financial
He also says that "aid doesn’t feed corruption, it helps fight it";
"By paying the
salaries of policemen and judges in Africa, strengthening the free press and
helping ordinary people in poor countries to hold their governments to account,
aid plays a key role in strengthening and enhancing good governance."
Noting that just 1.6p of every £1 spent by the UK government goes to development, Sir Tony insists that aid is good value for money. Read his full letter here.
My prediction is that we won't get the radical change of direction from Miss Greening. She has already affirmed the 0.7% target to The Guardian. "Delivering on our promise of 0.7% is the right thing to do," she said, "whether it's helping countries cope with natural disasters and famines, or working with some of the British charities who are world leaders in international development."
Even if Ms Greening agreed with Lord Ashcroft and the Daily Mail etc it would be unlikely that David Cameron and Nick Clegg would support a radical pruning back of the UK aid commitment. It's a clear Coalition Agreement commitment. What we can expect from Miss Greening is an accountant's commitment to maximise value-for-money from Britain's aid budget. We might also expect a more modest growth in the budget when George Osborne looks for his next round of public spending savings.