NGOs named on FCDO merger consultation list kick back

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office in Whitehall, London. Photo by: Yui Mok / PA via Reuters

LONDON — The U.K. government has finally revealed the list of NGOs it says were consulted about the merger between the country’s development and foreign affairs departments.

Last month, the government said it had consulted 26 NGOs about the controversial merger but declined to say which ones. The names of 28 organizations engaged by the government have now been provided to Devex following a freedom of information request.

However, many of the organizations listed said they were only contacted after the government’s announcement of the merger in June. These include Sightsavers, Amnesty International, the British Red Cross, Care International, the International Rescue Committee, and Save the Children.

A senior representative from one of the NGOs on the list, who did not wish to be identified, said he was concerned the government’s consultation could be little more than a “box-ticking exercise.”

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The issue has been a sore point for the NGO sector ever since the surprise announcement of the merger in June, when Prime Minister Boris Johnson told politicians there had been “massive consultation over a long period of time” — a claim quickly denied by many organizations and development experts.

Bond, a network representing development NGOs, which was also included on the list, has previously accused the government of misrepresenting unrelated meetings as merger consultations.

“As we have consistently said, Bond was not consulted about the DFID and FCO merger prior to the decision being made. Our understanding was that a consultation process around the Integrated Review [of the U.K.’s international policies] would help inform the future of DFID and FCO,” said Simon Starling, director of policy, advocacy and research at Bond.

“We did have meetings with DFID to discuss the global humanitarian response to COVID-19 as well as the impact the pandemic was having on NGOs, particularly smaller community-based organizations, but we did not discuss any potential merger in these meetings,” Starling added.

Kate Allen, director of Amnesty UK, said: “In our view, any decision on a merger should have been made only after broad and meaningful consultation on the Integrated Review.”

Some of the organizations said they had discussed FCDO “priorities” with the department since the merger was announced. But the senior representative from one NGO identified on the list expressed concern about the quality of engagement from the government since the merger’s announcement.

He wrote in an email: “It is true that the Government has engaged with us about the merger since announcing it (although not in advance of it), but it’s difficult to know how much this outreach is shaping anything, rather than being a box-ticking exercise.”

According to the freedom of information response, the organizations the government has consulted on the merger are: Bond, The HALO Trust, STOPAIDS, BRAC UK, Gender and Development Network, CARE International, International Rescue Committee, Christian Aid, BBC Media Action, Transparency International UK, Sightsavers, Gender Action for Peace and Security, Coalition for Global Prosperity, Overseas Development Institute, ONE Campaign, Amnesty International, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Global Partnership for Education, Save the Children, Plan International, Voluntary Service Overseas, Stonewall, Human Rights Watch, Article 19, Sisters for Change, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, and the International Committee of the Red Cross and the British Red Cross.

Update, Oct. 26: This story was amended to correct the attribution of a comment about the government’s engagement with NGOs.

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. He can be reached at william.worley@devex.com.