By Tim Montgomerie
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This ConHome/ Save the Children video was launched at the Tory Conference. Featuring Boris Johnson and George Osborne it is confirmation that a broad range of Conservatives are committed to Britain's aid budget.
One of the weaknesses of that budget, however, is the way it doesn't always get to poor countries but is used for political purposes. Once often true of the UK aid budget it is still true of the EU development budget and new International Development Secretary Justine Greening is on a mission to change that. The Daily Mail reports that £784million of UK taxpayers' money that Britain sends to the EU aid budget ends up going to relatively well-off countries including Turkey, Iceland and Brazil. Reforming Britain's contribution to the EU aid budget was point eight of Lord Ashcroft's recent ten point development action plan.
Ms Greening commented:
"I don’t think it’s right that the EU still gives money to those countries higher up the income scale, when we’ve taken the decision to target the poorest. I’ll be doing everything I can to get other countries on board."
I'm hopeful that Justine Greening will bring a new broom to Tory development policy. The budget becomes much more popular – even with sceptical Tory members – when its practical benefits are set out. Ms Greening's determination to stamp out misuses of the budget should build extra confidence. She has already ordered a review into the high consultancy fees that some development groups receive from the DfID budget.
This seems an appropriate moment to remember the contribution that Andrew Mitchell made to the development budget. The embattled new Chief Whip wins the surprise backing of former Labour MP Chris Mullin today. Mr Mullin, writing in The Times (£), urges Mr Mitchell to hold firm. Here are the two key quotes:
- "The facts of the matter are simple. After the refusal of the officers guarding the entrance to Downing Street to open the main gate for Mr Mitchell and his bike, he unwisely let fly with a string of expletives. We all say things in the heat of the moment that we quickly come to regret and this incident was no exception. Mr Mitchell , who quickly recognised the error of his ways, duly apologised to the officers concerned and his apology was accepted. That should have been the end of the matter."
- "Over many years a succession of home secretaries of all parties (it was Theresa May’s turn this year) have been greeted either with stony silence or slow hand-clapping at federation conferences. No amount of sucking up will make any difference. The Police Federation is a mighty vested interest that has seen off just about all attempts to reform the least reformed part of the public service. They need to be taken on, not appeased."
Anyhow, back to development and here's a list of six of Mitchell's key achievements as Development Secretary:
- DFID was reorientated to helping countries develop their economies so they can stand on their own two feet. Mitchell established a private sector division within DFID to ensure that UK spending focuses on key issues like property rights and business and investment climates.
- All aid spending became focused on poorer countries and results. Russia, China and fourteen other richer countries lost all aid. No DfID office now receives funds without a detailed business plan for how development money will be used and monitored. It is, of course, amazing that such plans did not exist during Labour's reign.
- There was a refocusing of aid budget on conflict-stricken nations and conflict-vulnerable nations. War is the greatest driver of the worst forms of poverty and Mitchell stepped up efforts in Afghanistan, as well as countries like Somalia and Pakistan, to tackle the root causes of conflict in the world's most dangerous states. By bringing DFID to the table in the National Security Council Mitchell, working closely with William Hague, ensured that unlike in Iraq there was post-conflict planning for Libya from day one.
- The Aid Transparency Guarantee put all aid spending over £500 online. Mitchell also established an independent aid watchdog with the remit to evaluate any aid spending. This has already produced tough external reports to keep ministers on their toes.
- Overhaul of international aid obligations. Mitchell cut funding to 10% of the international agencies that Britain funded, and allocated funds to the rest based on a detailed ranking of what they would deliver with the money. This, unbelievably, was the first review of its kind for some of these agencies since they were founded. The impact of the UK review was multiplied across the world as other countries followed our lead.
- Put the Union Flag on all UK aid.