You couldn’t make it up if you tried.
This morning’s papers carried the findings of a National Audit Office (NAO) report into aid spending, demonstrating that due to the Government’s spending target of 0.7% of GDP the Department for International Development spent at least £1billion more than expected over the course of two months as they rushed to hit the target.
Because of the ludicrous target, when the Office for National Statistics released new data in December 2013 showing that GDP was higher than expected, the Department had to increase its spending.
The problem with a “target” is that it isn’t a budget, it’s a minimum spend. If a particularly bacchanalian philanthropist gave somebody £50 to use in a pub that had to be spent by midnight, that somebody would have four more pints of Guinness than they needed and wake up with a belter of a hangover. It’s the same at the Department – but instead of £50, we’re talking about billions of pounds of taxpayers’ cash.
There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with international aid, even at a time of austerity. Britain can be proud of the efforts it is putting in to West Africa as we speak, and for the food parcels dropped to trapped Yazidis during the summer. Too, it can leverage foreign aid to improve people’s lives, by forcing the hand of foreign governments – though this doesn’t occur as much as it should. Every penny of foreign aid must get to the people who need it most, on the frontline. That simply isn’t happening at the moment, as countless reports have shown.
We need to rethink our foreign aid strategy, and we should start by scrapping the ludicrous 0.7% target.