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The aid smokescreen
In a Cabinet oppressed by the Treasury’s ceaseless demand for cuts, one minister is blissfully immune from such pressures. Justine Greening, the International Development Secretary, has just seen her department’s annual budget jump by 31.9 per cent – almost certainly the biggest percentage increase in a single year ever enjoyed by any British ministry in peacetime history. While the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence twist and turn to avoid the Treasury axe, Miss Greening’s officials are working out how to spend an extra £2.5 billion.

But this festival of riches has landed her with an acute political problem. Miss Greening’s chosen answer is to seek to distract our attention away from DfID’s bonanza with big announcements about how some unfortunate country will no longer receive British aid.

This week, South Africa dropped off the list – a decision that concerns all of £19 million, or 0.18 per cent of DfID’s newly enlarged budget of £10.5 billion. The fact that South Africa has unwisely chosen to complain will only help to thicken Miss Greening’s smokescreen. Last year, India was subjected to the same treatment when she declared that British aid would cease in 2015. In fact, that decision had been taken in principle by her predecessor, Andrew Mitchell; her only contribution was the formal announcement. She also took the chance to punish Rwanda after the country was accused of arming a brutal rebel movement. But none of this should be allowed to camouflage her overriding responsibility to achieve value for every pound of British taxpayers’ money spent in foreign lands, particularly in this straitened era. The next time DfID increases aid to an existing recipient – or finds a new one – can we expect a similar announcement?
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