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Aid is about our values. It offers our generation an opportunity to save and transform the lives of the world’s poorest people, and thereby build a better world.

Aid is also in our national interest. It stops the spread of epidemics, clears landmines, resolves conflicts, and builds free and fair democracies, making Britain healthier, safer, and more prosperous. As we adjust to a post-pandemic world and the rise of an increasingly hostile China, aid can remain both an expression of our values, and a pillar of our foreign and defence strategies. To do so it must become more effective, flexible, and smarter.

A five-year time scale would strengthen long-term aid objectives as well as delivering better outcomes to aid recipients

To make aid more effective, the Prime Minister should appoint a Minister for Development of a similar calibre toSamantha Power, the head of the US Agency for International Development. A former Ambassador to the United Nations and Pulitzer-prize winning war correspondent, Power also sits on the US National Security Council, emphasising the interconnectedness of defence, diplomacy, and development. Although the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO) was established to better integrate diplomacy and development, Samantha Power has no opposite number in the UK Government.

To deliver maximum impact, aid needs a senior champion in Whitehall with sufficient political clout to support the Foreign Secretary, prevent waste, and ensure aid is focused on poverty reduction, while supporting our foreign policy and defence objectives. A senior figure such as the former Leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson, might also communicate the lifesaving work of British aid to those sceptical taxpayers on whose generosity aid depends.

To make aid more flexible, the aid target should be moved to a multi-year rolling time frame. The Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) has found that “Frequent delays in the disbursement of funds, combined with the FCDO’s 80% rule – requiring that 80% of funds be spent by December of the financial year of disbursement – often reduces a 12-month programme to effectively nine or even six months with little notice.” Rushing to spend a legally imposed target before a tight deadline risks bad practice. A five-year time scale would strengthen long-term aid objectives as well as delivering better outcomes to aid recipients, while helping to ensure better value for money. The aid target should also be synchronised with the Comprehensive Spending Review.

This would offer greater alignment with departmental allocations and provide reassurance that aid is being spent both strategically, and in keeping with our foreign policy and defence objectives.

In the coming years China will continue to weaponise international development with its Belt and Road Initiative and push into Africa

Finally, delivering smarter aid depends on the full aid budget being replenished as quickly as possible. The Prime Minister said at the time the cut to aid to 0.5% of Gross National Income (GNI) was announced that “the UK will remain a world leader in international development and we will return to our commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI on development when the fiscal situation allows.” The Government has since revealed that will be when the Office for Budget Responsibility’s fiscal forecast shows that, “on a sustainable basis, the UK is not borrowing to finance day-to-day spending and underlying debt is falling”. By 2023, the temporary cut to aid will have already saved approximately £10 billion, more than double the amount set aside for the Levelling Up Fund that will support town centres and high street regeneration. All who recognise the enormous extent to which the UK’s soft power is supported by its commitment to the 0.7% target will wish to see it return as soon as possible.

Protecting the British people and our democracy is the first duty of all governments. It is only right, then, that the UK should be undertaking the biggest programme of investment in defence budget for 30 years.

Similarly, as the Integrated Review made clear, the FCDO was created as a springboard for the UK’s post-Brexit international efforts, fully integrating diplomacy and development to better address the clear link between extreme poverty and the impact of climate change in the developing world, and our security and prosperity at home.

Defence, diplomacy, and development are the three pillars holding up Global Britain, and our success on the world stage depends on the integrated impact of all three.

In the coming years China will continue to weaponise international development with its Belt and Road Initiative and push into Africa, while Russia will seek to maintain its geopolitical position by working to prevent peace in failed states and places like Syria. Meanwhile, the pandemic has revealed that none are safe until all are safe. The world needs Britain’s leadership in international development.

Smarter aid, in support of our diplomacy and defence objectives, can both save and improve lives, defend vulnerable people from authoritarian advances, and keep British values at the heart of international affairs in the twenty-first century.

Ryan Henson is CEO for Coalition for Global Prosperity. This article first appeared in our Centre Write magazine Target secured? Views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue. [Image: UK Government]