Priti Patel, U.K. secretary of state for international development. Photo by: British High Commission / CC BY-NC-ND

U.K. Secretary of State for International Development Priti Patel presented a laundry list of demands to the World Bank on Friday: less competition between financial institutions, more accountability and riskier investments in poor and conflict states.

Patel followed the demands by renewing her pledge to use the U.K.’s influence over international aid and trade to “drive reform in the international development system” in an address to annual meeting participants at the bank’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.

“Boosting global prosperity by creating jobs, investment and trade in countries where they are desperately needed is firmly in the U.K.’s interests,” Patel said in a speech at the World Bank. “That is why we are using our position in the Bank to push for significant reforms that work for Britain and the world’s poorest.”

For the second time in a week, Patel pointed to the new performance agreement with the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria as the first of many arrangements between the U.K. Department for International Development and aid organizations designed to place conditions on U.K. aid.

Both at the World Bank annual meetings and the Conservative Party Conference, Patel promised that DfID will leverage its role as one of the world’s top aid donors to drive reforms related to accountability, transparency and even the selection of aid recipients.

While the bank plays a critical role in development, it must “work harder and smarter” to achieve impact. Patel said.

“As a globally engaged, outward-looking nation, Britain is challenging the Bank to focus its support on those who need it most, ensuring the world’s poorest are not blocked from the opportunities they need to stand on their own two feet.”

Patel offered a list of reforms to the finance ministers gathered at the annual meetings: Double International Development Association and International Bank for Reconstruction and Development loans and grants to the poorest countries eligible for funding; set out a plan for investment in poorest, most fragile and conflict states by spring 2017; and create deals that achieve the highest impact and value for money though “collaborating and not competing with other multilateral development banks, development finance institutions, humanitarian agencies and private sector investors.”

The U.K. is the biggest contributor to the IDA, providing 3 billion pounds ($3.7 billion) in loans and grants in the IDA’s last funding cycle.  

“DfID are considered to be supporting the things we think are the way to go, particularly those of us doing the community level work,” said Andy Chi Tembon, senior health specialist at the World Bank who previously worked with DfID on an HIV education project.

“The competition happening on the ground is because of the limited resources that are available, but I think it’s right that she said we need to work collaboratively rather than compete,” Tembon told Devex in a phone interview.

Tembon said the bank’s leadership is well aware of the need for better collaboration — both within development institutions and between partners.

“It’s not a criticism, but that’s the situation,” he said. “There should be more work between sectors, the [President Jim Yong Kim] said it very clearly, there needs to be more work between sectors within the bank itself, even before you go outside the bank to tell people to work together, and I think it’s the same thing with most of our partners,” he said.

Before visiting the World Bank, Patel offered other clues about DfID’s approach to driving reform, speaking to the participants of the U.K. Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham.

“Let’s face up to the fact that not all of the global aid system is as effective as Britain’s approach,” she said, pointing to the World Health Organization’s response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa as an example of lives being lost due to the U.N. agency’s poor preparation.

Patel explained she would seek reform by “following the money, the people and the outcomes,” by ensuring accountability throughout the aid supply chain, focusing on human capital and increasing impact through development finance schemes such as DfID’s payment by results, respectively.

A new pledge of 750 million pounds in aid to Afghanistan would embody this approach, she said. The new funds aim to strengthen infrastructure and government systems, improve health and education services, support mine clearance and create jobs and investment, according to a DfID press release. DfID did not respond in time for publication to questions about which other departments would manage the new funds to Afghanistan.

Finally, Patel spent the last few minutes of her speech lambasting opponents in the Labour Party for their critiques of DfID.

“Just as Labour have the wrong ideas for helping people in this country, they have the wrong ideas for helping people in other countries too. People underestimate the risk they pose,” she said. “Let’s not forget, they are, in their own words, an international socialist party.”

Kate Osamor, a member of Parliament and the shadow secretary of state for international development responded by telling Devex Patel is “out of touch.”

“We will take no lessons from Priti Patel on international aid,” she said. “By her own admission she doesn't believe her own department should exist. She would abolish the department that has helped hundreds of thousands of women and children out of poverty,”

Referring to the cross-government strategy, Osamor said spending overseas development assistance through other government departments such as the Ministry of Defense as the “ideologically driven dismantling of Britain's internationally renowned aid program by moving money from anti-poverty programs to military and corporate subsidy programs.”

For more U.K. news, views and analysis visit the Future of DfID series page, follow @devex on Twitter and tweet using the hashtag #FutureofDfID.

About the author

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    Molly Anders

    Molly Anders is a former U.K. correspondent for Devex. Based in London, she reports on development finance trends with a focus on British and European institutions. She is especially interested in evidence-based development and women’s economic empowerment, as well as innovative financing for the protection of migrants and refugees. Molly is a former Fulbright Scholar and studied Arabic in Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Morocco.