Before Priti Patel became the UK's new secretary of state for international development in the latest government changes, she had already set her new self a challenge. Three years ago she said her department of state should be abolished. But now she's in charge, what will she do? The Times, for one, hopes that she's not changed her mind. In a recent editorial, it said:
"The Department for International Development (DfID) should be a champion of state-of-the-art overseas aid and a symbol of British soft power. Instead it has become a byword for mismanagement and waste. Thanks to the government’s statutory duty to devote 0.7 per cent of GDP to foreign aid, one of the department’s principle duties is spending taxpayers’ money to ensure that the target is met. This is a target embraced to alleviate suffering, serve Britain’s strategic interests and in the process give the country a good name. In practice it has served to profit corrupt regimes and given aid a bad name. ..."
Sadly, it's not difficult to come up with examples of such excess; indeed, you only have to read the Daily Mail, which I occasionally force myself to do. But it seems inevitable under present management that a proportion of our £12bn aid budget gets used for nefarious ends, or helping the Swiss banking system cover its costs.
In 2013, Patel suggested replacing DfID with a 'department for international trade and development' that would see trade have a greater emphasis than aid, and such a move would meet with approval from at least some expert advice on the economics of development. Given that we now actually have a department for international trade, that would seem quite possible. But will she do it? Saying all this whilst insulated from the Aid movement's influence is easy; to continue to do so whilst immersed within it, may prove quite another.