Penny Mordaunt’s ‘New Development Offer’: The good, the not-so-good, and the missing

Penny Mordaunt’s ‘New Development Offer’: The good, the not-so-good, and the missing

After four months in the job, Penny Mordaunt MP, UK Secretary of State for International Development today set out her stall on the UK’s aid policy. The speech was her chance to highlight her priorities and set a new strategic direction for DFID.

There were five things I liked about the speech, two I found concerning, and one big area was – surprisingly – missing in action.

The good

The Global Goals. Throughout the speech Penny Mordaunt talked about the Global Goals, the agreed overarching framework for international development. It’s positive to see UK aid situated within this framework, although it would have been even better if she had talked about the UK’s commitment to meeting the Goals domestically too.

Making the case for aid. Making the case for UK aid to the UK public was one of the core purposes of the speech, and she did this very well. Ms Mordaunt set out her stall with a combination of appeal to British moral values – most people who support aid do so for moral reasons –and enlightened self-interest. In a week in which new OECD statistics revealed a £555m increase in UK aid, along with the predictable barrage of media criticism, her message was clear and welcome.

Transparency and effectiveness of aid through other government departments. Government departments other than DFID now spend nearly 30% of UK aid, and concerns have been raised about their transparency and effectiveness, not least by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI). Penny Mordaunt was strong on transparency, saying ‘it’s not about who spends it within government – whoever spends it needs to spend ODA really well and the public should always know what, where, how and why.’ There was also an aspiration that in future, the public should ‘see in real time the results of the geocoded projects they fund.’ These commitments are welcome and we look forward to seeing them implemented.

Global health. This was identified as one of five big priorities for DFID. It is easy to see why – health is an easy sell for a UK public keen to see aid save lives and prevent pandemics reaching our shores. This is a welcome priority given the importance of good health systems for poverty reduction and development. We will be looking to see this translated into generous UK contributions to the global health replenishments over the next two years.

Illicit flows and anti-corruption. Ms Mordaunt noted that DFID will ‘tackle global issues such as crime and corruption, and develop a new area of cooperation to stop illicit financial flows.’ With an estimated $1 trillion developing countries every year through corruption and illicit flows, this is important. This also needs to be translated into UK commitments on beneficial ownership transparency in UK overseas territories and full implementation of the recently agreed EU Anti-Money Laundering Directive (AMLD5).

The not-so-good

So far, so good, though I have two main concerns about the speech:

National interest and global development. Ms Mordaunt was very clear that she believes that there are win-wins in development, where aid can support both UK national interest and development. I’m sure such win-wins exist, including those highlighted in her speech. ‘National interest’, however, can also come into conflict with development, when it comes to where aid is spent (poorest countries or countries of strategic interest?); how it is spent (supporting local priorities or UK ones?); who it is spent by (pooling through multilaterals or bilaterally? UK businesses or local contractors?) and what it is spent on (poverty reduction or UK commercial interests?). She says those who say you can’t spend ODA effectively and support the UK national interest should ‘watch us’ – and we will.

Security spending and ODA rules. There were mentions in the speech of bringing the development and security agendas more closely together, for example a veiled reference to using the military to deliver aid and also a commitment to create ‘new country-level programming targeted at specific communities and locations vulnerable to extremism and organised crime.’ This potential ‘securitisation of aid’ is concerning, and could lead to aid being spent in tackling threats to the UK, not poverty reduction.

The missing-in-action

The big missing area from Penny Mordaunt’s speech was women and girls, which only got one mention. Poverty is Sexist, so this is a surprising omission, especially given that Ms Mordaunt only recently launched a new Strategic Vision for Gender Equality and has been outspoken on this issue.

We hope that the implementation of this new development offer puts women and girls at the centre. Only then can we really – as Ms Mordaunt says – be proud of UK aid.

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