Leader Profile: Gillian Merron, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development

At a time when global poverty is peaking at its most extreme and disabling, governments and developing agencies all over the world are rearranging their strategies to fight poverty with greater intensity. One such agency that aims to bring poorer nations towards genuine growth and progress is the British government’s Department for International Development (DFID). Tasked with managing and coordinating the UK’s aid to developing countries, the DFID is currently headquartered in two locations (London and East Kilbride), and has 64 offices overseas with a total of 2,500 staff working ‘round the clock’ to beat poverty.

As Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, Gillian Merron’s responsibilities include providing constant support to the British Secretary of State for International Development Douglas Alexander, particularly on leads for the African region. Her office is also in charge of such salient issues involved in human development, governance and social development, growth and investment, among others. “We are focused on delivering the Millennium Development Goals agreed at the United Nations Millennium Summit in September 2000, which commit developed and developing countries alike to pursue the eradication of poverty and promotion of a greater equality of opportunity around the globe,” Merron said.

For Merron, though, a newer and more pressing challenge that the DFID must confront is the issue of accountability and transparency in the execution of its development programs. “I am also very conscious of the heavy burden of responsibility our increasing budget places upon us. As our budget rises, there will be even greater expectations in terms of what DFID can achieve, and much scrutiny,” she explained. “We need to get much better at demonstrating to people that we are getting good value for money from our development expenditure. You need to know what we are doing with your money. We need to tell you that story. Transparency and accountability are core democratic values we are supporting overseas ? which we need to promote back here in the UK.”

Despite these challenges, however, Merron believes that much can be done with the careful study of aid efforts, whether or not they’re effective, and how to make true development a nearer and more solid possibility. “It is important to continue to measure the impact of our efforts and to track levels of understanding and support for development,” she emphasized. “We recognize that this is a difficult area and that public attitudes are likely to be influenced by immediate world events as well as DFID-supported interventions.” She believes that assiduousness is called for in this respect, if progress is at all to be achieved. “We will continue to monitor and measure the output of our individual activities and interventions; and continue with public opinion surveys that track changes in public attitudes against current benchmarks,” Merron added.

Besides being a Minister in the DFID, Merron is also the Labor Member of Parliament for Lincoln, and once served as a trade union official for the National Union of Public Employees before she made her mark in Parliament. She also took up undergraduate studies in Lancaster University, where she gained a BSc (Hons) in Management Sciences.

All in all, Merron is decidedly hopeful on what the DFID ? together with other governments and agencies ? can achieve in the cause of eliminating poverty. “I very much hope that pride in this work the Government is carrying out on the public’s behalf can continue to emerge as a strong British value that unites diverse communities here in the UK,” she opined. “I would argue that a concern for the world’s poor is a core British value, not uniquely ours of course, but nonetheless a defining characteristic that is given further expression in the size and scope of our international development program.”

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