Justine Greening's vision for UK aid

U.K. Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening. Photo by: Department for International Development / Sheena Ariyapala / CC BY

In a highly anticipated speech Thursday meant to appease critics and advance the government’s value-for-money agenda, Justine Greening outlined her vision for U.K. aid more comprehensively than ever.

The speech came at a time of mounting public criticism against her agency’s ring-fenced budget while many domestic programs are facing severe cuts.

Greening started her tenure as secretary of state for international develompent in September, and since then, she has habitually said at events that she was there to listen. On Thursday, she made a similar reference again, and suggested that it was time for a compromise of sort. That compromise, she said, lies to a great degree in boosting the aid program’s value for money.

“People need to see that we are targeting our spend effectively,” Greening said in her speech at an event hosted by the ONE Campaign U.K. “Spend needs to be in the right places, on the right things and done in the right way.”

Greening set out several priorities in her speech: poverty reduction, humanitarian assistance, women and girls, economic growth and jobs. She also took note of what David Cameron called the “golden thread” of building institutions, assisting civil society and improving governance.

Others include:

  • Investing in long-term progress of countries that “want to move forward” and having a plan for getting rid of aid dependency.

  • Following through with the United Kingdom’s pledge in 2010 to spend 30 percent of U.K. aid on fragile states by 2014, working more closely with the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Ministry of Defense.

  • Helping to promote investments in developing economies and, in a cross-government effort, removing “unnecessary hurdles” that prevent U.K. companies from doing business in Africa. Greening made it clear she was not interested in tied aid.

  • Creating a private sector, with the help of “large” nongovernmental partners, that can generate wealth and taxes to keep sustainable public services funded. The Department for International Development, Greening said, will work with the United Kingdom’s customs and tax department to help strengthen tax regimes in the developing world to mobilize domestic resources.

She also wants DfID to “remain a world leader” in transparency.

“My ambition is for all aid flows to be completely traceable, from source to destination,” she said, acknowledging that this won’t happen overnight.

Greening had a strong message for “poor”-performing multilateral institutions perhaps a response to an International Development Committee review in January tackling DfID’s growing multilateral expenditure.

“I also want to take a hard-headed look at which multilateral institutions we support,” she said. “When we see the updated multilateral aid review later this year, I will want to see clear evidence of reform before committing new funds.”

Her predecessor, Andrew Mitchell, stopped funding four U.N. organizations in 2011.

Greening highlighted some of the measures she introduced at DfID, such as a code of conduct for the agency’s top suppliers which she hopes partner NGOs will begin using for their subcontractors as well. She also talked about her decisions to phase out traditional aid to India, and cut assistance to Rwanda and Uganda, which she said “may have been difficult, but I believe … necessary.”

“I want to refresh our Partnership Principles with a more structured approach on human rights and corruption in the future,” Greening said.

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.