UK's new strategic framework for ODA will only focus on countries where UK development, security and economic interests "align"

The UK’s Foreign Minister, Dominic Raab, announced that the UK will be putting in place a new strategic framework for guiding its official development assistance (ODA). The announcement came in a letter Raab wrote to the Chair of the UK parliamentary International Development Select Committee, Sarah Champion, on November 25, 2020. No date was given for the actual publication of the full strategy.

The UK’s new ODA strategy will focus "only on countries where the UK's development, security and economic interests align", such as those in sub-Saharan Africa and the Indo-Pacific region, according to Raab's letter. No specific priority countries were identified. Raab also highlighted seven key global challenges that the new strategy will focus on:

  1. Climate change and biodiversity: The new strategy will focus on research and development and supporting low-income countries' adaptation and mitigation plans. Raab confirmed that the new strategy will also maintain the government’s commitment to providing at least £11.6 billion (US$15.1 billion) of the ODA budget between 2021- 2025 for climate change via the International Climate Fund.
  2. COVID-19 and global health security: This includes continued support to multilateral initiatives and organizations (such as the World Health Organization and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance) as well as support to fragile health systems in low-income countries.
  3. Girls' education: The strategy will work towards ensuring that the UK contributes to the global commitment to get 40 million girls into education and 20 million more girls reading by age of ten.
  4. Science, research, and technology: The new strategy will continue to ensure that ODA for research and development remains a priority with focus areas including health, education, resilience, low-carbon technologies, agriculture and economic development, and conflict and poverty.
  5. Open societies and conflict resolution: The new strategy will focus on using UK ODA to strengthen democratic institutions, human rights, free media, and effective governance. While governance has been a long-standing priority for UK ODA, the focus on free media and human rights has gained greater traction recently, given Raab’s stated interest due to being a former human rights lawyer.
  6. Trade and economic development: UK ODA will focus on forging trade and investment partners for the future via its ODA in a far more explicit link of UK trade priorities with development efforts. The focus will be on supporting an improved trade and investment environment in low-income countries, infrastructure, and widening access to finance with support from the UK Export Finance (a UK government export credit agency and ministerial department) and the CDC Group (the UK’s development finance institute).
  7. Humanitarian preparedness and response: The strategy will focus on leading a stronger collective response to crises and famine and continuing the UK’s efforts at multilateral reform in this area. The strategy will also maintain the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office's (FCDO) crisis reserve.

Raab confirmed in the letter that the UK will continue to provide core investments to the multilateral development banks in the future, but these will be based on new strategic objectives. He noted that the UK will retain its place as the largest donor to the World Bank and a major donor to the World Health Organization.

Finally, Raab outlined three ways he is keen to improve the quality and impact of UK ODA spending:

  • Putting in place a new management approach for assessing assistance projects: Bilateral programs will also be the default option due to their advantages of effectiveness, local ownership, and strategic impact (exceptions for global research, core multilateral activity, and policy-influencing work), with most of the centrally-managed programs to be instead managed at regional or country level. Failing or underperforming projects will be closed. 
  • Strengthening FCDO oversight of the assistance budget: The FCDO will be responsible for oversight of the majority of ODA, including that delivered by other governments. This is a change from the former Department for International Development (DFID), which did not have oversight powers over ODA delivered by other departments.
  • Reforming rules of contractors: Spending limits that forced the DFID to outsource to expensive consultants will be removed, and instead, the FCDO will work to build greater in-house project management expertise.

Letter - FCDO

Press release - FCDO

News article - Devex