The recent appointment of Alok Sharma to Cabinet as Secretary of State for International Development was a move welcomed by the International Development community, and has decreased fears amongst aid supporters that this Conservative Government will profoundly change the way that our aid is spent, although the threat still remains. The newly elected Conservative leader, Boris Johnson, is on record as being unsupportive of the way in which we spend our aid budget, stating that “we can’t shovel money out the door like some Scandinavian NGO”. Statements like this, and increasingly anti – aid politicians, led to the creation of fears that the commitment to spend 0.7% of Gross National Income on Overseas Development Assistance may well have been scrapped, or that the essential independence of The Department for International Development (DFID) would be compromised by a merger with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

DFID Perm. Secretary Matthew Rycoft CBE welcomes Alok Sharma to the Department
DFID Permanent Secretary Matthew Rycoft welcomes new Secretary of State Alok Sharma to the Department. Image: Benet Coulber / DFID

As the ONE Real Aid Index demonstrates, DFID is consistently shown to be the most efficient spender of the aid budget, with the strongest focus on eradicating global poverty, as well as the most accountable. This is why we have welcomed the announcement of the new Secretary of State, and the maintenance of DFID. The new Secretary of State has given some indication of the focus he intends to bring into the department; as a former financier, he has a strong understanding of foreign direct investment, and the opportunities that can arise from effective engagement with the private sector as countries seek to grow their way out of poverty. He has stated in a recent CITY AM article that “By using my experience and British expertise in countries around the world, we can use private sector investment to realise the potential of countries like Nigeria. Securing long-term, sustainable prosperity across Africa will help countries to end their reliance on aid and build their trading relationship with us. The case for a truly Global Britain is hugely compelling.” This is perhaps the starkest indication so far that the Boris Johnson government will ensure that our international facing departments will be utilised to build the Global Britain brand, and keep our international standing high as we leave the European Union. 

The global health sector is no different to other sectors, in that one of the most efficient and effective ways of ensuring maximum impact, and increasing influence politically, is through engagement with multilateral institutions, and collaboration with a wide range of actors. The UK has already shown great leadership in this area, leading the world in the recent replenishment of the Global Fund – committing to spending £1.4 billion over three years – is a fantastic example of effective collaboration between governments, the private sector, academia and practitioners. 

The UK has a great opportunity to continue this leadership through the upcoming financing moments of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), Nutrition for Growth and Education Cannot Wait (ECW). ECW was set up to ensure that children are not denied access to education in humanitarian emergencies and conflict zones. With 1 in 4 school aged children currently living in crisis afflicted states, the need is huge, and the UK government has a remarkable opportunity to make a huge difference. 

As our recently published report, Brick by Brick, shows, investing in multilaterals is one of the most effective ways the UK can spend its aid budget, and we will continue to advocate for DFID to continue to invest in moments like this, and build on the success of the Global Fund replenishment. However, ambitious investments in multilaterals must be aligned with strong bilateral commitments on health (including nutrition) and education to ensure that we maximise the impact and reach of UK aid. This will be imperative for ensuring that we reach the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people, promote global prosperity and achieve value for money for UK aid – as set out in the UK aid strategy. 

In this era of increasing political instability, the proven results of these bilateral and multilateral investments provide perhaps the greatest opportunity for the UK to maintain its presence as a world leader, while benefiting the poorest in our global society.