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Whilst neither development or the aid budget were central to the review, it confirms a focus on Africa and the Indo-Pacific and the intention to use diplomacy, aid and trade to tackle climate change and other development goals. Development NGOs have expressed concern that the “tilt” to the Indo-Pacific for trade, security and diplomatic reasons may de-prioritise Africa and the use of UK aid to reduce poverty.

Decisions prior to the review

Two significant changes to the UK aid landscape preceded the review. These were the merger of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office with the Department for International Development (DFID) in June 2020 and the November announcement that the UK’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) would be reduced from 0.7 percent to 0.5 percent of Gross National Income in 2021.

The creation of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) was intended to bring “diplomacy and development together, in lockstep” and ensure that the UK’s international efforts, including its ODA spend, are made with reference to the “diplomatic, political and commercial priorities of the [UK] Government”.

Future ODA priorities

The review identifies seven priorities for UK aid, including supporting open societies and conflict resolution, humanitarian preparedness and girls’ education. Whilst not one of the seven priorities, the review states that the Government is committed to the sustainable development goals and that poverty reduction will remain central to the work of the FCDO.

Future ODA will be aligned with the Paris Agreement on climate change, which the Government states is its “number one international priority”.

How integrated was the review?

NGOs have criticised the review as focused on the UK’s security and trade interests, at the expense of poverty reduction, and for not integrating poverty reduction and climate change into its conflict prevention strategy. While declaring a commitment to reduce the frequency and intensity of conflict, the Government has reduced allocations to the Conflict, Stability and Security fund. In addition, NGOs criticise the emphasis placed on security and diplomatic solutions to conflict rather than civil society.

Africa and the Indo-Pacific “tilt”

The Government intends for the UK to be the “leading European power” in the Indo-Pacific by the 2030s. In 2020/21, Africa will receive half of the FCDO’s bilateral ODA spend, which will focus on alleviating “human suffering”, and the Indo-Pacific, a third.  Indo-Pacific ODA will focus on climate change, promoting open societies and reinforcing trade links.

A new development strategy

Further detail is expected in a separate development strategy, due by 2022. The Chairs of the House of Lords International Relations & Defence Committee and Commons International Development Committee (IDC) argued a new development strategy was required in response to the reduction in the UK’s ODA, announced in November 2020.

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