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Department for International Development (Mr. Howard Horsley)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:16 pm on 20th July 2005.

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Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, Party Chair, Co-operative Party 4:16 pm, 20th July 2005

As is traditional, I start by congratulating my hon. Friend Mr. Mitchell on securing the debate, although I recognise that it will bring him no joy. It certainly brings none to me, or, I am sure, to those who watch or read the proceedings.

I welcome the opportunity to clarify the record regarding Department for International Development management practices at what is a hugely important time for development and for aid generally. I shall address Mr. Howard Horsley's dismissal, but first I shall make some general remarks about the Department's management practices and touch on the issue of Ghana.

Earlier this month, at Gleneagles, the G8 countries made an historic agreement. They agreed a comprehensive package of measures to accelerate development in Africa and the developing world. Because of that agreement, Africa can make faster progress toward achieving its millennium development goals. The package is a momentous and important result for Africa, the UK and the international community. Inevitably, it gives DFID a great opportunity and a great challenge, and I am confident that it will meet that challenge.

It is important to point out that others share my confidence in DFID. In January, the Prime Minister said that it is

"probably the most respected such Department in the world."—[Hansard, 12 January 2005; Vol. 429, c. 295.]

Praise for the Department has come from a range of other sources. The Canadian Institute of International Affairs recently said that DFID is generally considered to be the best development agency in the world. In 2003, a BBC "Westminster Hour" survey panel that included a former Minister, lords, MPs, former civil servants and journalists rated it as the top-performing UK Government Department. Therefore, I have reason to be proud of DFID's performance. If one is proud of one's Department's performance, one must inevitably be proud of the way in which it is managed.

I turn to some specifics about DFID's management practices. In all our work we stress the importance of sound management, which must start with a clear focus. Our public service agreement sets out that focus. The agreement is centred around achieving the ambitious and internationally agreed millennium development goals, but it essentially has one aim, which is reconfirmed in the International Development Act 2002: to work towards the elimination of poverty in poorer countries.

In mid-2004, following direction from Ministers, our management board set out a programme for the next three years that highlighted delivery and performance against that single, overarching aim. Part of the agenda was a wide-ranging efficiency programme. We believe that gains worth £400 million can be achieved in the period 2005–06 to 2007–08. We monitor our efficiency gains as part of our effort to monitor and report on our performance. Like all Departments, we publish progress against our public service agreement twice a year and we report publicly on our website.

The public service agreement includes a value-for-money objective, which includes the aim to increase the proportion of our bilateral programme excluding humanitarian assistance to low-income countries from 78 per cent. to 90 per cent. in the current financial year. The Department knows that it can enhance its performance through collaborative working, so of course we join our efforts to those of other Departments, not least the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence on conflict prevention.

We have a range of sound management practices that protect that value-for-money objective. They include a system of internal control that has been commended by the National Audit Office, annual statements of assurance from each of nine divisional directors, a very active internal audit function and a thorough approach to risk management. In 2004, we also launched further anti-fraud, anti-corruption measures, seeking further to adopt a zero-tolerance stance.

Our sound management practice does not stop at financial issues. In the end, the Department's achievements are about the achievements of our staff and ensuring that their unfailing energy, skill and determination is maintained. That is why this year we launched a major new programme further to improve people management, our approach to which embraces constant efforts on diversity. Those in turn have been bolstered by the launch in 2004 of the "Diversity Vision and Strategic Priorities" paper, senior managers being responsible for delivery against the priorities identified. In summary, we have a range of management practices that ensure strong performance and delivery against our poverty elimination aim.

I shall mention our work in Ghana, a country where Mr. Horsley worked. As hon. Members know, Ghana is a very poor country; more than a third of its population, about 7 million people, live on less than a dollar a day. In Ghana, my Department spends about £70 million a year. The programme is firmly targeted on the poor and on creating the conditions for economic growth. The country has a thriving democracy and a reputation for using aid well. Our programme has succeeded in helping Ghana to bring down poverty by about 10 percentage points since the 1990s. Poverty has reduced to about 37 per cent. of the population today, putting Ghana on track to reach the income poverty millennium development goal by 2015. It is one of the few countries in Africa that is on track to do so.

Our support for Ghana's progress on poverty would not be possible without sound management in the DFID Ghana office. Our internal audit department carried out a further health check of that office in February 2003, judging its management systems to be robust. My hon. Friend may be interested to know that the National Audit Office is expected to visit DFID Ghana again in December further to review our management systems and practices in that office. I will welcome what it has to say.

On people management, DFID Ghana was inspected in 2003 as part of our Investors in People accreditation process. An independent assessor interviewed all 45 staff in Accra and rated DFID Ghana's management environment as good.

I shall refer to the specifics of the case that my hon. Friend raised—the dismissal of Mr. Howard Horsley. My hon. Friend will understand that I cannot breach confidences about Mr. Horsley's personal information and employment in this setting, but I can confirm some key facts about the case. The Department employed Mr. Horsley from May 1999 to January 2000. He was dismissed on 6 January 2000 on performance grounds. Since then, my hon. Friend has written some 17 letters to the Department about Mr. Horsley's case. Two DFID Secretaries of State, two DFID permanent secretaries and two Cabinet Secretaries have considered the matter. Mr. Horsley commenced employment tribunal proceedings in April 2000. The litigation ended following a number of hearings in November 2003, and Mr. Horsley was not successful. The NAO has investigated my hon. Friend's concerns about financial practices in the DFID Ghana office and found no evidence of impropriety. There has also been a series of DFID internal, civil service commissioner and Attorney-General investigations and reviews since the dismissal, which my hon. Friend alluded to. My Department estimates that its costs for investigating and reviewing the case now exceed some £40,000. I recognise that my hon. Friend's constituent has also had huge costs.