G7 Summit – 1st June 2016
One of the stark facts to emerge from the G7 summit in Japan is that Britain is the only leading economy to honour the pledge to earmark 0.7 per cent of Gross Domestic Product for overseas aid. Germany and France donate about 0.4 per cent, Canada gives less than three per cent and Japan, The United States and Italy come in at under two per cent. The United States does, of course, contribute the largest sum in hard cash because of the size of its economy but less than two per cent of GDP is still a pretty miserable sum from a nation that has criticised the UK for not shelling out enough in support of NATO.
I am becoming used to being in a controversial minority on some social issues but I stand by my belief that our commitment is practically and morally correct. If we, as one of the wealthiest nations on earth, cannot contribute 7 pence out of every £10 to help some of the poorest people in the World then we ought to be ashamed of ourselves and those rich countries that are failing to do likewise need to examine their own political consciences.
What matters, of course, is not the figure but how your money is spent. At a time when the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which also has a considerable role to play in our relationships with developing countries, is facing an austerity that will, unless the balance is addressed, impact upon our international potency, we need to make sure that every pound of taxpayers' money deployed overseas is well, carefully and accountably deployed. ' Vanity' projects should have no place in lands where clean fresh water, sanitation, healthcare and livestock are wanting and absolute priorities for investment.
If our Overseas Aid programme is to be both credible and effective then a waste that still exists has to be rooted out of the systems. Failure to achieve and demonstrate proper scrutiny of expenditure will otherwise bring our aid programme into the kind of disrepute that the more xenophobic of our tabloid newspapers never cease to promote and publicise. It is not good enough to say, however admirably, that we should allow regimes that are frequently corrupt and avaricious to determine their own priorities and spend money that donor societies just hand out. Self- determination is not always fine even in developed democracies and management and accountability are vital if our aid programmes are to continue. If those of us who believe that we must continue to maintain our level of aid are to be able to justify our commitment then we have to carry the voting public with us and we will only do that if we can demonstrate that other people's hard- earned cash is making a real and lasting difference.
Charity does not and should not begin at home but there are two areas that I believe warrant scrutiny and attention.
First, some of the DfID budget should be reallocated to the F&CO for the specific purpose of promoting, monitoring and providing management support for aid projects. There is a fine line between 'neo- colonialism ' and accountability but at the moment the UK is too far on the relaxed side of that line.
Second, and this is highly contentious of course, I believe that if we are to take refugees from war zones as we must, then part of that inevitable cost should be treated as ' overseas aid' and budgeted for accordingly.
I have made clear, having had some personal experience of the matter, my concerns about the addition of juvenile refugees from ' The Jungle' in Calais to those that we have committed to take on the recommendation of the UNHCR from camps in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. If, though, that is the decision that has been taken then at the very least we should relieve some of the further burden of cost upon local taxpayers. I know of a number of people, including some parliamentary colleagues, who are keen to will the ends without being prepared to will the means. Funding the exercise, at least in part, through the DfID budget, might go some modest way towards mitigating the inevitable criticism that will be forthcoming when the bills start rolling in. I just wonder how much of that will have been discussed, even in the margins, at the G7 and Tokyo.