Dominic Raab has insisted his department acted in a “fully transparent way” in setting out how foreign aid would be spent after he was accused of “sneaking out” cuts to the budget.
The Foreign Secretary set out the priorities for how the £8.11 billion of the aid budget will be allocated by the Foreign Office – approximately 80% of the total UK spend.
The Government shelved a manifesto commitment to spend 0.7% of national income on overseas aid due to the economic impacts of the coronavirus crisis, cutting it to 0.5%.
Some 200 UK charities said in a joint statement that cuts to the foreign aid budget represented a “tragic blow” for many of the world’s most at-risk communities.
In a written statement to Parliament late on Wednesday, Mr Raab announced the official development assistance departmental allocations (ODA) for 2021-22, including £906 million for humanitarian preparedness and response.
Chair of the Commons International Development Committee Sarah Champion said the timing of the statement showed “a lack of respect” for Parliament.
“To sneak out a written statement at the end of the day shows a lack of respect for both Parliament scrutinising these cuts and the aid organisations that are hearing about the spend for the first time only now,” the Labour MP said.
Appearing before the same committee on Thursday morning, Mr Raab claimed that thematic spending would not “normally” be set out at this point of the financial year.
Asked why he did not make the announcement in the Commons, Mr Raab told MPs: “First of all, we wouldn’t normally set out the thematic allocations, the spending, at this early stage in the financial year.
“In fact, I think it’s almost unprecedented. So, what I have tried to do is set out the raw data, broken down by allocation.
“We haven’t done this in anything other than a fully transparent way, given it to the committee, and indeed members of the House, the day before, precisely so that you can grill me for the two hours you have got me here today.
“The normal process, just to be clear, is for country allocations to be published by the Statistics for International Development, and that process doesn’t take place until 2022.”
Mr Raab said that his department was releasing “as much as we have at this point” and that the normal process, through DevTracker and supplementary estimates, “comes much, much later”.
He added: “We are certainly embracing that transparency and I would hope that coming to your committee and releasing as much as we have at this point via written ministerial statement the day before demonstrates that goodwill.”
In response to the aid priorities, charity leaders from organisations including Save the Children and Oxfam said that when other countries are stepping forward with aid budgets, “the UK has instead chosen to step back”.
“Today’s announcement is a tragic blow for many of the world’s most marginalised people the UK once supported, and for the UK’s reputation as a trusted development partner,” the charity leaders said.
“The Government has not even spared countries ravaged by humanitarian crisis, disease, war and poverty. When other nations are stepping forward and bolstering their aid budgets, the UK has instead chosen to step back.”
In a tense exchange during the committee session, Ms Champion said she knew of an aid organisation in Syria facing difficulties as the funding for this year had not been allocated.
The Labour MP told Mr Raab: “At the moment, people are going hungry because we are not signing off cheques.”
He responded: “I don’t accept that. I don’t accept your headline view that we are not still maintaining our proud legacy and tradition of being generous by global standards.
“No one is going hungry because we haven’t signed cheques, that is just not true.
“But of course, as everyone would expect, both from the point of view of oversight of taxpayers’ money, but also, to maximise the impact, we have to have a proper process – we’re going through it just as fast as we can.”
Mr Raab said that ministers intended for the 0.7% target to return “when the fiscal situation allows” but did not set out what the criteria for this is.
“We had always said that we would return as soon as possible, this was always an emergency measure, if you like, because of the economic damage wreaked by the pandemic,” he told MPs.