Simon Maxwell

Beyond Aid: the Future of UK Development Cooperation

The Report of the House of Commons International Development Select Committee on Beyond Aid was published on 2 February. I am interested because I work on the Future of International Development Cooperation – see here. More importantly, I am Specialist Adviser to the Committee, and worked on this report, so am really curious to know what people think. The Report itself is available on the website of the IDCInternational Development Committee – see here. There will be opportunities to comment on Twitter, with the hashtag #idcbeyondaid. Unfortunately, however, the parliament website does not offer the opportunity to give more detailed comments. So, to help things along, I’m reproducing here the summary of the report, and inviting readers to post their comments with me. I will pass them on.

In case this looks like I am claiming ownership of the report, let me be absolutely clear that that is not the case. As Specialist Adviser, my role has been to support the MPs and their team of full-time Committee Clerks and Advisers. I have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to offer suggestions as the enquiry has proceeded, but this is their report, not mine. I may agree with the findings. I may not. You will have to read my memoirs to find out, when I write them. If I write them.

One other thing. This enquiry attracted a very high, possibly unprecedented number of written submissions, nearly 60 in total. It also had some very high quality oral evidence sessions. I can strongly recommend browsing on the enquiry-specific website, here. It will be interesting to see whether people think the Committee made the best use of the evidence and whether it drew the right conclusions.

So, here is the Summary. Read, go across to the full text, digest – and please comment.

‘The nature of international development is changing. The number of low income countries is falling. Within that group, most of the poorest countries—and overall, 22 out of  DFID’s portfolio of 28 countries—are fragile states, requiring multiple and complex interventions.

At the same time, the importance of global issues—conflict, climate, migration, trade, tax, financial stability, youth unemployment, urbanisation economic development, and infectious disease—is rising. These changes will be reflected in the new framework of Sustainable Development Goals to be adopted in 2015.

Aid remains essential for the poorest countries, and for some purposes in middle-income countries (MICs). It is encouraging that the UK has reached the 0.7% target. However, overall, a new approach is required which reflects the changing situation.

First, as aid is no longer provided to some MICs, such as India, new forms of co-operation have to be developed which facilitate links with UK institutions in a wide range of areas, including health, education, culture, law, culture and science. This will be labour-intensive, requiring DFIDDepartment for International Development to put more emphasis on working with small organisations.

Second, policy coherence for development (PCD) is at the heart of a new approach. This means working across Government in the UK, and with global partners in the multilateral system, to maximise the impact on development of all the UK’s actions.

The UK has scored notable successes, for example on some aspects of trade, tax and global health. Its initiatives on women and girls, including FGM, attract widespread praise. At the same time, DFID’s record is patchy. For example, there is more to do on security where we are concerned that DFIDDepartment for International Development lacks influence; as a result too little weight is given to conflict prevention.

The UK faces challenges which will require a cross-Government approach on a large number of issues, including: security, in and originating from fragile states; climate change; and disease threats (illustrated by Ebola). The new SDG framework will require action on these and other issues.

The new approach raises questions about issues such as organisational structures, cross- Government working, competences, and reporting and accountability. We believe DFID’s long-term future as a standalone ministry will be at risk unless stronger mechanisms to support cross-Government working on development are put in place. We recommend that

  • The UK maintains a free-standing and Cabinet-level Department for International Development which ensures that international development priorities are at the heart of government, and is appropriate for the UK.
  • Cross-Government working be improved. The security sector is a case in point. The National Security Council should take a broader view of threats to UKsecurity, and ensure that development and conflict prevention be given the priority they deserve. There should be explicit strategies and policies, with clear responsibilities for delivery. Current experience with joint Ministers, joint units, cross-Government funds, and shared offices overseas, should be expanded.
  • DFID make policy coherence for development (PCD) a higher priority and make improvements to reporting and accountability. DFIDDepartment for International Development needs to put PCD at the heart of its work, co-operating closely across Whitehall, and not treat it as an addon. The National Audit Office and the Independent Commission on Aid Impact should give a higher priority to PCD. The National Security Council should be fully accountable to select committees, via the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, and individual select committees.
  • Both the International Development Act of 2002 and the International Development (Reporting and Transparency) Act of 2006 be revised and updated to reflect the changes which are taking place. This should be done when the new SDG framework has been agreed.
  • DFID ensure that its staff have the right skills for the future. In recent years, as Departmental spending has grown, DFIDDepartment for International Development staff have focused on programme management. In the future, other skills will become increasingly important. The Government must ensure that staff competences cover, in addition to programme management, the ability to influence partners in Whitehall, in international institutions and in developing countries; they must have the ability to facilitate new forms of development co-operation. Both DFIDDepartment for International Development and the FCOForeign and Commonwealth Office will have to invest more in staff working in fragile states, with better language training and longer postings.


# RE: Beyond Aid: the Future of UK Development CooperationAndrew Rogerson 2015-02-02 17:56
The report is interesting, but pulls many punches..

The key missing point is how any tensions between (a) the UK's "enlightened" longterm self-interest based on expanding the space for global prosperity, preventing conflict etc and (b) UK PLC's narrower and short-term self-interest, for example in matters of trade, migration banking transparency etc etc, should be reconciled. I doubt any single "development" department, however agile and professional, can resolve these: at best it can be a "canary down the coal mine" flagging policy incoherence examples for media and civil society to amplify. But how long will it last if that is its signature tune?

The other striking issue is how well DFID (or any other bureaucracy) can credibly act as a "connector" between British and MIC institutions, a sort of superpowered British Council, as is proposed (in an earlier report, picked up here). I think the room for such "twinning" is less than the Committee seems to imply-imagine a world where all 30+ DAC members, were eagerly pushing their domestic institutional models onto the BRICS and others who have reinvented their own, thanks very much.A whiff of neo-colonialism ?
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# Response to Beyond AidNatalie Sharples 2015-02-03 12:18
I’m pleased the IDC undertook this inquiry. Recognition of the range of polices that impact on development, or Cross-Governmen t working be improved are really important and timely. I think the call for the International Development Act to be revised and updated may provide important opportunities. Likewise the reforms to reporting on DFID’s reporting PCD. The recommendation on Reforms to the IFIs is also encouraging.

The report provoked the following questions/thoug hts for me:
• Whilst acknowledging the role of other departments the report seems to place the primary responsibly for PCD on DFID. Is that not part of the problem? Can DFID by be an effective champion for coherence in the absence of a central mandate to all departments? An IPPR report in 2010 suggested that a number of mechanisms for policy coherence across HMG existed (do they still?), however are impeded by a lack of political will and accountability -Does this suggest a mandate from number 10, coordination by Cabinet Office + a strong accountability mechanism is needed? Also could central coordination (and accountability) help us to highlight and learn from any successful egs that do exist?
• The Health is Global strategy (led by the DH) is listed as an example of successful PCD, but does the will exist to implement it and is there sufficient accountability? It will be interesting to see the outcomes of its upcoming review.
• I ‘m curious why the IDC chose not to consider a range of mechanisms for PCD outside of security, instead leaving it to DFID to respond. Is this because of the IDC’s mandate? If so is there an argument for expanding the role of the IDC or greater collaboration between committees – such as the committees on Arms Export controls? ( as argued by AFGH and someone else - BOND I think?)
• Accountability to those affected by UK policies should also be considered. CONCORD have some interesting suggestions on this- e.g. For e.g. consultation by the FCO and DFID country offices or looking at models that exist in Sweden.

On a broader point on PCD, I think we need a fundamental shift in the popular view of development. The notion that development =aid is pervasive (perhaps that ‘s why the press misinterpreted the focus of the report?) and is an impediment to effective coherence. For PCD to happen I’d argue all of us in the development community need to shift our primary focus from aid and concentrate on departments other than DFID. (such as argued here
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