Insights on the UK Government’s Strategy for International Development

(By Derrick Sanyahumbi – CEO British Expertise International)

On Monday 16th May 2022, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) released the long-awaited UK government’s Strategy for International Development, setting out the UK government’s vision for the future of the UK’s international development focus and priorities at a time of significant geopolitical and economic upheaval. The Strategy reflects a sharp focus on strengthening bilateral partnerships and mobilising investment to support developing nations from succumbing to “malign influence”. British Expertise International (BEI), a membership organisation for the UK’s international development companies, welcomes the new Strategy and looks forward to supporting the Government with its implementation.

The key messages in the Strategy included:

  • A focus on four key priority areas – investment partnerships, women and girls, humanitarian assistance and climate change, nature and global health.
  • Re-balancing multilateral and bilateral official development assistance (ODA) spend
  • Mobilising private sector financing as a central part of resourcing the UK’s development offer
  • Adopting an integrated and cohesive approach to trade, development and foreign policy with clear roles for DIT and UKEF, alongside the FCDO
  • Use of ‘British expertise’ as central leverage in delivering and achieving the UK’s international development objectives
  • Empowering Heads of Mission (ambassadors) with greater decision-making authority on development programming
  • Reduction of aid bureaucracy and red tape to speed up programme delivery and improve efficiencies.

It appears that fundamental to the strategy is a belief that helping to “build countries’ resilience and empower people” will result in countries that are “more prosperous, peaceful and healthier”. The Strategy emphasises a ‘whole of government’ approach that is supported by “world class UK expertise, business, civil society networks, research partnerships and technology capability towards development outcomes”. 

As I reflected on the Strategy, I was very conscious that our members at British Expertise International and UK companies will be key to supporting delivery of this strategy. I would highlight a number of key takeaways: 

1. The re-balance of multilateral and bilateral development spend will provide opportunities to utilise UK based expertise more substantially
The Strategy commits to a re-balancing of the development budget towards bilateral spend we believe this will lead to greater accountability, visibility and flexibility. Vital to this will be a need for more visibility of the longer-term pipeline of programme opportunities as the re-balancing looks to more effectively promote the use of ‘British expertise’ including private sector, civil society and academia. 

2. The concept of ‘British Investment Partnerships’ will embed private sector investment at the heart of the UK’s international development offering
The pivotal role of the private sector is highlighted as a partner in delivering some of the Strategy’s climate ambitions. Through British Investment Partnerships, the Strategy commits to mobilising up to £8 billion of UK-backed financing annually by 2025, to address current barriers to trade and investment. Although, at present, British Investment Partnerships appear to be more of a collection of initiatives than a coherent initiative in themselves, the high prioritisation of investment within the Strategy provides clear opportunities for the private sector to support the UK’s development objectives, as well as to potentially shape these Partnerships.

3. The importance of British expertise is central to the successful execution of the strategy
We see opportunities for leveraging British expertise across a wide range of areas, many of which are spaces our members and UK companies currently deliver across all four focus areas of the Strategy. This provides clear opportunities for UK companies to deliver, in partnership with local actors as appropriate, highly effective initiatives and programmes internationally, including through new Centres of Expertise, drawing on existing strengths to provide support where our members are best placed to do so.

4. The strategy makes a commitment to ‘patience’- this could enable the private sector to build sustainable and efficient models of development and delivery
While recognising the need to be agile in the face of fast-paced geopolitical change, we support the Strategy’s ‘patient’ approach to development, tackling the structural causes of developmental challenges. This could include governance and social development related work to provide sufficient capabilities and capacities for governments and other stakeholders to work effectively in partnership with ‘British expertise’. 

5. Reducing bureaucracy and empowering Heads of Mission should enable more effective and efficient delivery of development interventions.
The Strategy’s ambitions to accelerate the programme approval process and empower in-country leadership to make decisions quickly is an important step in helping to improve the efficiency of the sector and deliver better value for money. We encourage government to engage with BEI members, and other delivery partners to learn from previous experience and challenges.

6. The Strategy’s more integrated approach to development, and ensuring that it is part of the wider foreign policy alongside trade is positive. 
We believe the integration of international development as a key part of the UK government’s foreign policy, in addition to trade & investment and diplomacy, all support the broader aims of prosperity and security at home and abroad. Our members have the expertise, capacity, experience and global reach to support the UK in achieving its foreign policy priorities.

Overall, we believe the new International Development Strategy provides grounds for optimism for our members, the private sector and other stakeholders, with opportunities for greater collaboration as partners in pursuit of the UK’s development and wider international objectives. Nonetheless, some challenges remain, particularly around its execution and delivery.

• More detail is needed in a number of areas
While the Strategy provides much-needed vision during a period of high levels of uncertainty, the lack of budget allocation, precision in defining priorities and detail on a number of key initiatives and programmes means that many of the practicalities of the Strategy remain uncertain. As such, while the Strategy is a valuable step forward, we look forward to the strategy’s launch and subsequent engagement opportunities to provide this additional clarity.

• Wider pressures, internal bandwidth and funding may undermine the Strategy’s execution
As ever, the strategy can set a clear direction, but successful execution will require consistency of approach. The volatile geopolitical situation at present and the enduring possibilities of Cabinet reshuffles could quickly undermine many of the ideas presented in the Strategy. The Ukraine crisis also, understandably, continues to consume significant government bandwidth, and development budget. The cost-of-living crisis is also now biting hard, creating increased uncertainty over how, when and if the objectives outlined in the Strategy will be realised.

• Aligning expertise with execution will require engagement and collaboration
The rebalancing of development spend between multilaterals and bilaterals and the focus on ‘British expertise’ will require careful thought to ensure the best resources are leveraged.

We look forward to a period of detailed engagement and collaboration between the BEI, our members and the FCDO to help develop effective methods and initiatives that will fulfil these new ambitions and commitments.

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