Official Development Assistance

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:21 pm on 9th July 2020.

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Photo of Olivia Blake Olivia Blake Labour, Sheffield, Hallam 2:21 pm, 9th July 2020

It is incredibly important that we are using this estimates day to debate this subject, because it is an opportunity for us to scrutinise not only spend but the issues behind the decision on this merger, which my hon. Friend Sarah Champion summarised eloquently.

It will not surprise the House that, as a member of an internationalist party, I am both surprised and horrified by the announcement of the merger of DFID and the FCO and am arguing for the maintenance of the ODA floor at 0.7%. The House will be aware of the importance of protecting this funding for a wide range of reasons, including tackling disparities facing children, women and girls, those with disabilities and in health and education—so important that this floor was part of the Conservative party’s 2019 manifesto.

We have seen across the world failures where diplomacy and development Departments have merged, as my hon. Friend outlined. That is probably due to the difference in expertise and practice of civil servants in those two vocations. While complementary, they are distinct and different. It is important to shine a light on the new responsibilities that this new Department should have, which include ensuring that funding is available for sustainable and green investment to support the countries that will be put most at risk from our own pollution and the climate justice that needs to emerge.

The cynic in me thinks that this decision has been ideologically driven. The concerns of my constituents who have been in touch to express their frustration and confusion over this decision are valid. As a city of sanctuary, we are an internationalist city, which may explain the difference in my experience on the doorstep from that of Government Members. I am concerned by the Secretary of State’s comments about the Government looking to cut £2 billion from the new Department’s budget, with a 30% cut in aid spend across all Departments. That is not what my constituents will be expecting. The reason I am cynical is the vast number of fringe right-wing organisations that have been looking to cut aid budgets, scrap DFID and pull the UK out of the OECD altogether, but no think-tank, think piece or comment can take away the UK’s responsibilities.

Finally, the lack of consultation with the aid sector and staff of DFID and the FCO must call this decision into question. To take this decision during a global pandemic is also questionable, when all minds in the sector are focused on tackling this terrible crisis. Any decision about jobs that is found out via a tweet is very destructive to staff. It leads civil servants to feel irrelevant and their work undervalued. I hope that the Department has taken the time to discuss this with trade unions and that we do not lose this world-class Department.