The battle on aid is not won: NGOs shouldn't be soft on Cameron

If a law enshrining the 0.7 per cent aid target isn't in the Queen's Speech, development charities won’t be able to have their cake and eat it.

The Guardian’s economics editor Larry Elliot has had enough. In his latest column, he takes a pop at both David Cameron and UK development charities. Britain’s Prime Minister, he argues, sees economic growth as a panacea but Cameron, he claims, "has been treated with kid gloves by most of the UK development charities."

Elliot remembers Make Poverty History, Blair, Brown and Bono with nostalgic fondness but his current pessimism is clear in his latest column. G8 countries, who are struggling to kick start their own economic growth and are imposing austerity at home, are looking jealously at the growth rates of developing countries, and are questioning why they should do more to help.
 
This is a crucial year for the global development agenda and as a global player, Cameron is key. As well as hosting the G8 summit in the UK in July, the Prime Minister is representing the G8 on the panel advising the UN on the next set of global development goals. The 'High Level Panel' that he co-chairs is due to report at the end of May and some kind of growth target looks like it is firmly on the agenda.
 
But inequality is not, and that’s mainly because of Cameron. The case for making inequality an explicit target is eloquently argued by the new head of the Overseas Development Institute, Kevin Watkins. Another of the ODI’s experts, Claire Melamed explains how difficult Cameron’s job is going to be, but she too concludes that a focus on jobs and unemployment, might be more productive than on national GDP.
 
There are two new facts in the post-Make Poverty History world: the majority of poor people no longer live in poor countries, while the majority of poor people that do live in poor countries, live in conflict affected states. Cameron seems to acknowledge the second fact but not the first. None of the conflict affected states are going to meet any of the Millennium Development Goals, something which is not lost on a Prime Minister looking for stable trading partners. The New Deal seems to have firmly established its peace-building agenda and some kind of goal in this area looks certain.
 
But a fourth agenda, highlighted this week by the launch of the State of Civil Society report, is also crucial. "The freedom from want is nothing without the freedom from fear," writes the Secretary General the global federation of civil society organisations, Civicus. His report suggests that a third of the world’s internet users have experienced restrictions on the information they can access and the social media they can use to mobilise activists and hold governments to account.
 
The new development goals are intended both to guide the investment of aid by rich countries and focus the development efforts of countries and charities alike. But as yet another ODI expert, Romilly Greenhill argued this week, the UK development community has been far more focused on the amount of aid, rather than the direction of development.
 
And yet, the battle on aid is not yet won. The Queen’s Speech is a week on Wednesday and it is the deadline set by UK NGOs leading the ‘IF’ campaign for the coalition government to commit to legislate to enshrine 0.7 per cent into domestic law. When Osborne confirmed the DfID budget, NGOs celebrated with cake, despite a historic underspend by DIFD last year. If a law on 0.7 per cent isn’t in the Queen’s Speech, the UK NGOs won’t be able to have their cake and eat it. They need to once again wield a 'stick', as well as celebrate with the 'carrot' of a cake.
 
Richard Darlington was special adviser at the Department for International Development from 2009-2010 and is now head of news at IPPR. Follow him on Twitter: @RDarlo

 

Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and David Cameron co-chair a United Nations meeting on tackling global poverty in Monrovia on February 1, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.

Richard Darlington is Head of News at IPPR. Follow him on Twitter @RDarlo.

Photo: Getty
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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.