U.K. aid chief Penny Mordaunt at the 2018 Bond Conference. Photo by: Vicki Couchman / Bond / CC BY-ND

LONDON — The United Kingdom’s aid chief Penny Mordaunt has reassured civil society groups that the Department for International Development will not be “hoovered up” by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, and that there are no plans to scrap the 0.7 percent aid-spending target.

Following recent concern in the aid community about the future of DFID, Mordaunt finally opened up about her plans for the department during her opening speech at the Bond conference in the U.K.’s capital city, London, on Monday.

“There are no plans at all for DFID to be hoovered up by another government department or turned into something else … People need to calm down and chill out about that,” the secretary of state told a packed audience of aid and NGO representatives.

She also said the statutory target to spend 0.7 percent of gross national income on aid was not under threat. "We ought to be talking more about what you and all these organizations are achieving, which is incredible, and less about the 0.7 percent. I think we should just move on from that," she said.

It marks a change in tone from Mordaunt, who previously seemed reluctant to defend her department’s independence in response to a proposal by some members of the Conservative Party that DFID should be rolled back into FCO. The aid budget has also come under attack in recent months, including in a report released Monday by the Taxpayers’ Alliance, and another published last month by the Henry Jackson Society.

Romilly Greenhill, U.K. director at the ONE Campaign, said the group welcomed “the development secretary’s reiteration that DFID remains at the heart of Britain’s development offer”; while Toni Pearce, Oxfam’s head of advocacy, described it as “a reassuring recommitment to the world’s poorest people.”

However, not everyone in the aid sector was impressed by Mordaunt’s comments, pointing to the already decreasing role of DFID in disbursing aid under the controversial cross-government strategy.

“This is a welcome change of rhetoric from Mordaunt,” Jesse Griffiths, head of development strategy and finance at London-based think tank the Overseas Development Institute, told Devex.

But he added: “The government has been shifting money out of DFID into other departments … with the evidence showing that this is decreasing the quality of ODA spending. So everyone in the sector is saying there are real concerns … I think she needs to listen to that criticism rather than telling people to chill out.”

About the author

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    Sophie Edwards

    Sophie Edwards is a Reporter for Devex based in London covering global development news including global education, water and sanitation, innovative financing, the environment along with other topics. She has previously worked for NGOs, the World Bank and spent a number of years as a journalist for a regional newspaper in the U.K. She has an MA from the Institute of Development Studies and a BA from Cambridge University.