Wednesday 12 September 2012

Cabinet Reshuffle: Change at DFID

As mentioned on GfGD's Facebook page - last week David Cameron reshuffled his Government, and made some changes to the Department for International Development (DFID).

Andrew Mitchell who has served as Secretary of State since 2010, and Shadow Secretary of State since 2005 moved to another brief within the Cabinet. He was replaced by Justine Greening. Lower down the ministerial ranks, Stephen O'Brien (Parliamentary Under-Secretary for International Development) was also replaced by Lib-Dem MP Lynne Featherstone. Alan Duncan retains his position as Minister of State. 

Many people will have their own opinions about the successes and failures of the past two and a half years of Coalition Government, and in particular how DFID has progressed. You can read a variety of posts and opinions on the Guardian (see Jonathan Glennie, Liz Ford and Sol Oyuela for example). The general feeling from tweets, articles and blog comments however seems to be that Andrew Mitchell can leave DFID with his head held high. After five years as Shadow Secretary of State, he was described as being one of the 'best-prepared' secretary of states with genuine 'commitment to the sector.' 

Here a few of my own thoughts. In my opinion, and I would certainly welcome other's thoughts and comments Mitchell has been one of the higher profile Secretary of States in recent times, bringing some positive leadership and direction to this department, that showed that a genuine belief in the importance of development. In the difficult economic climate, there has been little (vocal) public support for ringfencing DFID's budget. Despite this, Mitchell has worked solidly to defend and promote the importance of supporting the world's poorest communities which must be commended. It is regretful and disappointing that he didn't oversee the promised legislating of 0.7% of GDP to international development. I also have concerns that the focus on value for money, which is not unwelcome, could bring about a reluctance to support projects bringing long-term results. Vaccines are much easier than hygiene education for example. It should also be noted that Stephen O'Brien was held in high regard by a number within the development community. 

Justine Greening and her ministerial team, therefore have a big responsibility to build on this work, and have a lot in their various in-trays. Greening must continue to fight to win the argument over the 0.7% of GDP, standing up to some fellow Conservative MPs who are sceptical to say the least. In the event of pressure from the Treasury to back down on this pledge, Greening must remember the promise of her predecessor not to balance the books on the backs of the world's poorest. Greening should also re-examine the 'value for money' approach taken by Mitchell - to ensure that DFID are not just taking a short term approach to development, in order to show rapid results. Real value for money comes from investing in long-term change, prevention rather than cure. Alongside these massive tasks, DFID will be taking a leading role in the development of post Millennium Development Goal targets, must continue to implement the HERR recommendations and many other tasks.

Overall, we should be proud of the fact that the UK has an overseas development department, and the work that we do to fight poverty and improve the lives of communities around the world. Both Andrew Mitchell and Justine Greening are privileged to have led and to lead such an important department.