The appearance of key figures at select committees and All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) over the last two weeks has given us some clues on the direction the government will take on international
development policy over the second half of this Parliament.
New International Development Secretary
Justine Greening, her predecessor Andrew Mitchell, and Stephen O'Brien
- the former Under-Secretary of State of the Department for
International Development (DfID)
- spoke about changes in budget support, the role of the
private sector and a move towards technical assistance.
|Andrew Mitchell changed the rules on aid|
He said that the rules governing budget
support - money that goes directly from the UK to the receiving
country's government - needed to be strengthened.
"Budget support is the best way of
doing development if you can trust the government with which you are
working and if the government has the systems to ensure real
accountability," he said.
"When the coalition government
came into office, we decided that the rules for budget support
were not sufficiently tough and the coalition government has
toughened them up very significantly."
The more stringent approach, he said,
meant aid is delivered quarterly or biannually - rather than yearly.
Last week, O'Brien made a presentation
at the APPG on street children where he emphasised the role of the
private sector in helping to deliver services for the poorest.
|O'Brien is keen on private sector support|
He added: "What some charities
have done well is focus not just on the human development aspect of their work but also on
what, in the future, will be their economic underpinning."
His comments provoked some sneers in an audience made up of academics, charity workers and
foreign government representatives.
The APPG's chair Baroness Miller, a Lib
Dem peer, said to me afterwards that private involvement was acceptable -
but only if companies had a clean record, in particular in relation
to human rights.
By adding that everything had to be
done to make sure the aid budget - which is not
reduced, she hinted that private sector involvement should not be a
substitute for direct state aid.
"We, alongside the Indian
government, want to see a transition of our role onto one that's
essentially based around technical skills, based around us helping
the Indian government grow its economy so we can create more jobs in
the private sector," she said.
|Justine Greening made the case for 'technical assistance'|
She was keen to point out that the help
provided by the UK, £280 million per year, was a drop in the ocean
compared to what the Indian government itself spends on health and
education: £40 billion.
Greening is a convincing speaker but fell short when it came to explaining what 'technical assistance' actually meant.
She also swerved a crucial
point by committee chair Malcolm Bruce who questioned whether state
governments in the poorest states of India - where British aid had
been targeted - risked feeling abandoned by a sudden end to
Greening was keen to move the debate instead
to human rights and committed to having "more structured conversations" with human rights organisations than DfID had done in the past.
"It's my plan to have a more structured approach within DfID and work with the Foreign Office to assess human rights and, critically, to get the views of human rights organisations," she added.
Her biggest challenge - as she has already found out over Rwanda - will be to decide whether to fund countries who have excellent records of using aid to reduce poverty but at the same time have a more checkered past when it comes to violence and other suspect practices.