DFID budget at risk under 'stealth review' of UK aid, MP claims

Photo by: MOD / DFID / CC BY

LONDON — All but 200 future programs to be run by the Department for International Development have been paused amid plans for a cut to the department’s budget, a politician has alleged.

Sarah Champion, chair of the International Development Committee — a parliamentary watchdog tasked with scrutinizing DFID — said she was informed of the move by whistleblowers, and accused the government of carrying out a “stealth review” of the country’s aid policy without the knowledge of Parliament.

It comes as the U.K.’s official development assistance budget — which is tied to 0.7% of gross national income, and is spent across various government departments — is expected to fall due to an economic downturn in the country. Champion said DFID looks set to shoulder most of the cuts.

The government is planning a wide-ranging integrated review of its foreign policy, defense, security, and international development this year, which some development watchers suspect could see DFID folded into the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. The review has been paused to allow the government to focus on the coronavirus pandemic.

“Can the secretary of state say what is the scope of the review, what is the timetable, and why did the [International Development] Committee find out by whistleblowers rather than official channels?”

— Sarah Champion, chair, International Development Committee

But as Secretary of State for International Development Anne-Marie Trevelyan took questions in Parliament on Wednesday, Champion accused her of carrying out a covert review instead.

“The Integrated Review is formally paused, but it seems the Secretary of State is carrying out her own stealth review,” Champion told the House of Commons.

“The ODA meeting was chaired by the foreign secretary, all but 200 future DFID programs are paused, and DFID looks like it's taking most of the ODA forecast cuts,” she continued. “So can the secretary of state say what is the scope of the review, what is the timetable, and why did the [International Development] Committee find out by whistleblowers rather than official channels?”

Trevelyan replied: “We are … because of the likely drop in GNI having to assess across the board how we will manage the 0.7 [budget] in the coming year and we are working across government to make sure that we do that as effectively as possible. Because as far as we are all concerned, and the prime minister has been very clear, U.K. aid must be spent to help the world tackle the COVID-19.”

The exchange will likely fuel fears in development circles that the government intends to press ahead with a long-rumored merger between DFID and FCO, a move supported by senior Conservative politicians, including the prime minister.

Earlier this week, the IDC released a report warning against a merger. It said DFID played a crucial role in projecting U.K. soft power and warned that any attempt to restructure it would be costly and disruptive.

About the author

  • William Worley

    William Worley is the U.K. Correspondent for Devex, covering DFID and British aid. Previously, he reported on international affairs, policy, and development. He also worked as a reporter for the U.K. national press, including the Times, Guardian, Independent, and i Paper. His reportage has included work on the Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh, drought in Madagascar, the "migrant caravan" in Mexico, and Colombia’s peace process.