20 Oct 2010

Sigh of relief at the Department for International Development – cry of anguish at the Foreign Office.

Our International Editor looks at how the government’s spending review will affect the Department for International Development and the pattern of aid Britain’s spreads around the world.

The Department for International Development’s (DfID) budget, as predicted, will rise until it reaches 0.7 per cent of GDP in 2013.

But the Foreign Office has to cut its budget by 24 per cent, primarily by reducing the number of diplomats based in Whitehall. It will no longer fund the BBC World Service, one of its most prestigious activities – the BBC will fund it from the frozen licence fee.

For years now, DFID’s power has been waxing and that of the Foreign Office waning. It started under the last Tory government and continued through Labour administrations. Tony Blair made sure that key foreign policy decisions were made in Downing St not at the Foreign Office. The new Foreign Secretary, William Hague, pledged to redress the balance – but today’s spending review suggests that he may not succeed.

There’s been surprisingly little protest about the increase in DfID funding at a time when the poor in the UK will get less in benefits and social housing.

The Chancellor said that the increase would lead to a halving of deaths from malaria and cut by 50,000 in the number of women dying in childbirth. I can’t see how they can prove that – especially since they haven’t yet got the independent body they promise to evaluate British aid.

Aid workers are concerned that the new emphasis on conflict prevention may be at the expense of fragile states which are not yet in conflict – Kenya and Nigeria being two examples – or those which are poor but stable – such as Malawi or Zambia.

They say poverty should remain the focus. But it seems clear that the five priority states identified in the National Security Stategy – Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and Iraq – will get the lion’s share of new money.

Yet don’t expect much fuss or anger. With huge cuts elsewhere, the development lobby knows it has little to complain about. They’re on the way up. Everyone else is on the way down.