Cutting waste at DFID has only just begun
IPN Opinion article
When the Labour government formed DFID, it decreed that the department should "make global development a national priority and promote it to audiences in the UK and overseas", and not just fight poverty.
Yesterday, Andrew Mitchell, the new International Development Secretary, signalled an end to this wasteful self-congratulation. He announced an immediate freeze on funding for five major development "awareness projects". He's also put a stop on projects totaling more than £6.5m. He says that from now on “projects will be tested to ensure they are providing maximum value for money”.
It's about time. DFID has funded a plethora of ridiculous projects: from a £300,000 grant to the National Union of Teachers to turn school teachers into “global agents of change”, to a quarter of a million pounds to teach Capoeira – a Brazilian form of dance - to young people.
Trade unions have regularly benefited from these “awareness” funds, as part of a wider, cosy relationship they enjoy with DFID. In 2008-09, for example, Prospect received nearly £200,000 to “mainstream bargaining for international development into the union's core activities”.
So the announcement is a good start - but only a start. DFID spending on “development awareness” has increased from around £5.6 million in 2000-01 to £13.7 million in 2008-09. And a huge expenditure of £47 million is projected for two years between 2009 and 2011. Furthermore, some of the programmes Mr Mitchell listed for immediate cuts fall under the Development Awareness Fund – which the last government had already decided to close down after the current financial year.
Of course, DFID wasn’t going to close down one project without launching a bigger one. It has drawn up plans to replace the Development Awareness Fund with programmes even more geared towards seven to 14-year-olds. DFID seems to enjoy using our school system to spread propaganda – already, 86 per cent of Fund's resources are aimed at shaping the views of children, adolescents or university students. Several grants even make a point about how easy it is to influence nursery and pre-school children, and claim to teach them about “global citizenship”.
Clearly, this is one of the most insidious tactics that Mr Mitchell’s new department should put a stop to and Mr Mitchell must ensure that the Fund's replacement must never see the light of day. There is a fine line between education and propaganda – but when children are conceived as targets, that line has been crossed.
Mr Mitchell’s funding cuts are a good start in the direction of a less wasteful DFID. If he actually does deliver increased scrutiny and value for money, we’ll be expecting cuts in the hundreds of millions.