If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That is a very concise summary of what my constituents in Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East are saying to me about the proposed merger of the FCO and DFID. Indeed, far from being broken, my constituents in Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East love the work of DFID and let us face it, there are not many Government Departments that we can say that about. Far from fixing anything, they see this merger as a cause for significant concern and a hugely retrograde step.
Nobody on the SNP Benches or any of my constituents are arguing that UK aid will shudder to a halt overnight as a result, but the worry is that the goal of reducing poverty and inequality in some of the world’s poorest countries will be diluted, with UK aid redirected to serve foreign policy and business interests. The rigorous monitoring and evaluation of aid will be lost in the Department, which is proving notoriously difficult to hold to account, and diplomats rather than aid experts will be making strategic decisions.
My constituents are worried that it will be the world’s poorest communities that will pay the price.
As the Prime Minister himself said, DFID has been a more effective spender of aid than any other Government Department, so my constituents are simply asking why does he want to meddle with that? Conservative Members seem to be arguing that everything will carry on just as before. That is a very strange argument for a fundamental change to departmental structures, and there is nothing that I have read in Government statements or letters that assuages these concerns. On the contrary, they confirm our fears. When speaking to the House, the Prime Minister appeared to argue that we should move aid from Zambia to Ukraine and from Tanzania to the western Balkans, not because of any assessment of need, but because it was in what he thought was the UK’s interests. I have absolutely no objection to the Prime Minister talking about cross-Government strategies, cross-departmental working and so on, but he is absolutely wrong to describe a separate aid Department as a luxury. To me, it is essential precisely because it prevents a conflation of development need and diplomatic self-interest that my constituents fear.