As spending reductions are implemented, I’m often asked to justify the “ring fencing” of the DFID budget. I’m happy to do so.
I believe that continuing to help the world’s poorest people not only is a moral imperative but also makes sound economic sense and strengthens our national security. Using development aid to raise health and educational standards (especially for women) are two of the most powerful ways to rein in the global population growth that is putting such pressure on resources, while strategic international investment, especially focused on Afghanistan and Pakistan, has a critical role in our counter-terrorism and security strategy.
It’s not as if the sums are huge. By 2013, only 70p in every £100 of national income will be spent on development. For that we are delivering huge benefits for the worlds’ poorest – contributing to eradicating smallpox; cutting the incidence of polio by 99 per cent; providing clean water to over 2.5 million people; supporting the education of 5 million children world-wide, despite class sizes of 50-100 pupils, which have similar attainment levels to our own British children. That to me is money well spent.
But two things need to change. First, we need to spend money on what works to reduce poverty. After 13 years of Labour profligacy when action entailed flinging money at a wall marked “good intentions” and hoping that some would stick, it is time for a hard-nosed, transparent assessment of which spending delivers the best outcomes and I am pleased that Andrew Mitchell’s team is doing just that, while also cancelling the farce of giving aid to China and India.
Second, we need to build better bridges between organisations such as schools, towns, hospitals, councils and voluntary groups in Britain and their counterparts in the developing world to make the development agenda real. In my Constituency we have the 25-year old example of a successful town partnership set up by the Marlborough Brandt group that links Marlborough, Wiltshire with Gunjar in SW Gambia.
I meet people locally on a daily basis who have had their eyes opened to the challenge and opportunity of international development by a stint living and working in Africa, or from hosting a visiting group from the Gambia. That is why I have restarted the All Party Parliamentary Group for Connecting Communities and am using this role to publicise the Global Community Links funding that DFID is making available to develop international links further. For those who would like to set up such a link I recommend www.dfid.gov.uk/communitylinks.