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£2.9bn foreign aid budget cut ‘a choice not a necessity,’ says campaign group

Global Justice Now says the government has used the pandemic as an excuse to make the unnecessary cut

CAMPAIGNERS criticised the government today for announcing a £2.9 billion cut to its foreign aid budget and using the pandemic as an excuse to do so.

Daniel Willis, aid campaigner at Global Justice Now, said that ministers had made a “choice” to make the cut and that doing so is “not a necessity, even at a time like this.”

He added that the government’s goal to spend 0.7 per cent of gross national income on foreign aid should be “a minimum, not a limit.”

Any cuts to be made should fall on aid spending that has “repeatedly failed to [...] deliver poverty reduction,” Mr Willis said, listing the government’s private development bank, the CDC Group, as an example, as well as large sums of money being given to private contractors to build luxury hotels and private hospitals.

The aid budget cut was announced on the same day that Parliament rose for its summer recess.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the decision to reduce the budget was made because of the economic effects of the coronavirus crisis.

He added that Britain will still meet its commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of gross national income on international development.

Before the Covid-19 crisis, spending on Official Development Assistance was set to be £15.8bn this year.

Government sources said 40 countries were prioritised for foreign aid after a “line by line” review of aid projects had taken place.

But Labour MP Sarah Champion, chairwoman of the Commons international development committee, said that it was “poor practice” to announce the move on the final day of Parliament.

She said the timing meant MPs could not scrutinise it. 

It comes after Mr Raab had announced a merger between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department of International Development (DfID) — a move that MPs and charities condemned last month.

Ms Champion said: “The announcement today raises more questions than it answers.

“The letter speaks of delaying activity and stopping some spending — what is the timescale on this?

“If it is with immediate effect, do the projects know [already] or will they find out via the media, as DfID staff did about the merger? Is there an overarching strategy in place?

“Will the evaluation of the impact of these cuts be made public? Where is the scrutiny?

“Clearly there has been no consultation, but to release this news literally as Parliament rises so there can be no scrutiny by MPs is poor practice.”

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