The Center for Global Development recently hosted an excellent, wide-ranging conversation between the Shadow International Development Secretary, Preet Kaur Gill, MP for Birmingham, Edgbaston and Sir Mark Lowcock on the future of the UK's development policy. Preet shared her thoughts and insights on a number of topical issues: from Labour’s commitment to recreating a separate development department for development; to what her top policy priorities would be in a Labour Government; and the current humanitarian needs in Turkey and Syria. She also voiced her support for reform of the OECD's Development Assistance Committee, which sets rules on aid spending—which CGD have repeatedly criticised.
You can watch the whole conversation here, or read our summary below.
(Note: quotes below are edited together from the full conversation to group them together by topic).
Bring back an International Development department
“We will bring back DFID but in a way that reflects the world that we live in today . . . We understand the importance of having an independent department with its own staff with its own budget . . . This model actually works because DFID is the reason why we were a development superpower . . . The Pergau dam scandal is why you do need a secretary of state, you do need to keep it independent, linking aid to arms sales is absolutely wrong.”
“[From her conversations with local actors in developing countries] We really want Britain to be playing the role it once did under DFID, and that absence is really being felt . . . decision making from Britain has been very slow.”
Throughout the event, Gill spoke about three key areas of focus for Labour's approach to development. Firstly, Gill discussed the future of DFID and her plans to bring it back, but adapted to the changing world. She emphasized the need for a balance between humanitarian response and long-term development, stating that "long-term development is the thing that turns the tide in terms of some of the global challenges."
Gill also highlighted the importance of maintaining the independence of DFID from foreign affairs, drawing comparisons with other countries such as the US, Germany, and the EU, who have separate organizations for their foreign and development services. She referenced the Pergau Dam scandal where aid was linked to arms sales, specifically calling out links of this nature, a comment which was met with positive feedback from the audience.
Focus on poverty and her top priorities
“One of the most important things for Labour is to get poverty falling again. . . We’re going backwards because of COVID, we’re going backwards because of conflict and climate change. . . . We’ve all seen that government has directed ODA spent away from poverty. . . We need to focus on the places where poverty is the greatest. . . I, think just looking at the issues in the world right now, of course it's got to be poverty, it's got to be inequalities, and it's got to be climate . . .the food crisis is huge. . .Ukraine has just shown what the impact of that is. And certainly it will affect Britain. . . But there will be future threats, future pandemics. I mean, the work that we have done around vaccine...has made a difference. We've saved lives by the work that we've done. If we don't meet SDG five, we are not going to meet some of the other SDGs. I think it's really, quite clear. And delivering education is, something I'm really keen on. I mean, the very fact that the United States is providing school meals in Africa as opposed to the United Kingdom, it is really disheartening actually.”
Secondly, Gill emphasized the importance of refocusing on poverty reduction. She expressed her concern that the COVID-19 pandemic, conflict, and climate change have only compounded the challenges faced by those living in poverty and pointed out that the current government has directed Official Development Assistance (ODA) away from poverty reduction efforts. She also repeatedly referenced the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and said that climate and food security, global health, and women and girls would also be priorities, with an emphasis on global health, since there will be future threats and pandemics. She raised concerns that the absence of Britain in developing countries after the merger was being felt with, for example, school meals.
0.7 ODA target and reform of DAC rules
“The ODA budget has to be spent on the things I’ve been talking about, around poverty reduction. Yes, we will set a pathway back to what that would look like but I think it is way too early at this point to be doing that . . . We need to make sure that the money is effectively being spent . . . nobody would expect us to immediately return to that (0.7) I think they would understand that is the right pragmatic approach to take. . .There's been so much abuse of ODA and how it's been raided and this idea that the government can somehow offset vaccines at a much higher rate at what they procure them, I think is quite scandalous. And I think there is a real opportunity to take a moment and really consider about actually how do we get to 0.7.”
Thirdly, Gill addressed the issue of the 0.7 percent Official Development Assistance (ODA) target and acknowledged the need to ensure that the budget is being spent effectively on poverty reduction, as well as the need to communicate more effectively with the public. She acknowledged that it may not be possible to immediately return to spending the 0.7 percent, but promised to set a pathway towards that goal. She also expressed her concern about the abuse of ODA and the raiding of funds for other purposes and called for a reform of the DAC rules, highlighting the example of vaccines.
On Syria and Turkey
“. . . in Turkey and Syria, the government has sent 76 rescue and search officers and that expertise. My big worry is we only have one cross border checkpoint where aid is able to flow, and that has been suspended. Now, if we don't resolve that issue, I'm really worried about the people in North Syria that we cannot forget and we do need to reach. I think what the work that the white helmets are doing and the fact that the government has said that they're going to support them absolutely is the right thing.”
Finally, Gill also shared her concerns about the delivery of aid to North Syria after the earthquake, as there is only one cross-border checkpoint that allows for the flow of aid and it has been suspended. This presents a major challenge for aid organizations trying to reach those affected by the disaster and Gill's concerns highlight the urgency of the situation and the need for the checkpoint to be re-opened as soon as possible to allow for much-needed assistance to reach those in need.
A request for ideas and promise to follow up
The Shadow Secretary of State concluded the event with a request for ideas from those listening, and said she would be happy to return to CGD in the future to talk further.
CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.