FCDO’s international development strategy “signals loss of UK leadership”, warns Bond, the UK network of NGOs
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) has today published its long-awaited International Development Strategy, which details how the UK plans to take forward its strategic priorities – set out in the Integrated Review – over the next 10 years. The Strategy was announced in March 2021, but publication was delayed several times including after the appointment of Liz Truss as foreign secretary in September 2021.
In March, Bond, the UK network of NGOs working in international development, sent a letter to Truss – co-signed by over 200 Bond members – warning that deprioritising global health, climate change and conflict prevention would “cost lives”. This was covered widely in the national press.
The new strategy:
- Prioritises investment and trade, women and girls and humanitarian work.
- Deprioritises health and tackling climate change – despite the global damage caused by the Covid-19 pandemic to health systems in lower-income countries and the commitments made during last year’s UK-hosted Cop26.
- Fails to set out clearly how the UK, like other global donors such as USAID, will support local organisations, civil society and institutions in recognising that local actors are best placed to drive their country’s development to ensure long-term success for sustainable development.
- Does not include an objective on open societies, which was included in the previous 2015 strategy and the Integrated Review.
- Cuts multilateral aid: the Foreign Secretary plans to make UK aid 75% bilateral (i.e. aid that flows from official/government sources directly to official sources in the recipient country) by 2025. This raises questions as to how the UK will honour multilateral agreements such as its £1.4bn contribution to the World Bank programme, which assists lower-income countries with responding to the Covid-19 pandemic.
- Shows a continued decrease in political commitment to transparency both in the UK’s ODA and international transparency initiatives.
Responding to the IDS, Stephanie Draper, CEO at Bond, said:
“Though this strategy contains some positive elements, it seems largely driven by short-term political and economic interests rather than the attempt to tackle the root causes of global crises such as inequality, conflict and climate change, which impact us all.
“It’s worrying that ‘aid for trade’ is at the heart of this strategy as this not only diverts money from life-saving programmes but could see investors benefit at the expense of the marginalised communities it’s supposed to serve.
“The focus on women and girls and humanitarian work is welcome, as is the approach to partnering with countries to determine their own futures. We are also pleased to see use of the full range of government tools to meet the Sustainable Development Goals. But the strategy contains little detail on how this is to be achieved and unless this is matched by a return to pre-UK aid cuts levels of funding, we will fail to make meaningful progress.
“It’s also troubling that action to protect open societies – where people can gather and speak freely – is neglected despite civic freedoms coming under increasing attack around the world. How can the UK stand up for democracy globally without a clear and credible plan to protect human rights or civic space?
“The strategy’s shortcomings signal the UK’s loss of leadership in global development. By using the diminishing UK aid budget to bolster trade interests, cutting back our global commitments and leaving poverty alleviation as an afterthought, the UK has missed a golden opportunity to properly rethink its role on the world stage – and risks abandoning the those most in need .”