Briefing | UK Government International Development White Paper

Categories: NewsPublished On: 18th January, 20241420 words7.1 min read

Briefing | UK Government International Development White Paper

Categories: NewsPublished On: 18th January, 202464.5 min read

The UK government has recently published its International Development White Paper, which sets out the current government’s approach to one of the critical challenges of our age. This briefing highlights the main points for the Wales and Africa stakeholders.

What is a white paper?

White papers are policy documents produced by the government that set out proposals for future legislation. They provide a basis for further consultation with stakeholders and interested parties. They generally precede a Bill, the mechanism by which ambitions and ideas become law. With a general election on the horizon, it might be that this paper doesn’t make it that far. In a meeting with Andrew Mitchell, the Development Minister, he assured us that he and his colleagues had consulted with the main political parties in the UK. He hopes the paper will have longevity as the principles are anchored in the globally agreed Sustainable Development Goals.

What did groups in Wales ask for?

Some weeks ago, Hub Cymru Africa shared a consultation questionnaire for people to input their views on what should be included in the paper.  As it was an open request, we received replies from many different types of organisations. Some of the main themes included championing country-specific challenges and solutions, using our expertise to help countries resolve issues, for devolved governments to have representation in multilateral forums, making better use of our university and business sectors, celebrating our successes in community-led partnerships, engaging grassroots NGOs that have direct links with marginalised communities. Hub Cymru Africa included all of the views and opinions sought in the consultation response we wrote to be representative of the vibrant sector in Wales.

Why is this paper so important?

We are not on track to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals. Only 15% of the SDG indicators will be met by 2030. In an increasingly volatile and contested world, global development and cooperation are more important than ever but seemingly more challenging. 701 million people remain in extreme poverty, predominantly in Sub-Saharan African Countries. The impact of climate change is felt by everyone everywhere but most acutely in developing countries. Humanitarian needs are at their highest since 1945. Demographic changes pose challenges in all countries. It is time for a radical rethink of how we might find positive solutions. This paper spells out what the UK Government have the power and drive to achieve.

What’s in the white paper to tackle the challenges?

The paper includes policies and ideas for most sectors in the UK. For small INGOs in Wales and civil society, Chapter 9 is the most important one; it sets out the direction we should be going in. The scope of the document is enormous, as it should be, given the size of the challenges ahead of us and the bleak outlook if we aren’t successful in delivering the SDGs.

The paper lays out its approach in the headings of the 9 chapters:

  1. The challenge we face
  2. UK International Development and our approach
  3. Mobilising the money
  4. International System Reform
  5. Tackling climate change and biodiversity loss and delivering economic transformation
  6. Ensuring opportunities for all
  7. Tackling conflict and state fragility, disasters and food insecurity 
  8. Harnessing Innovation and digital transformation 
  9. Civil Society and Expertise. 

There are many aspects of the paper that the sector has welcomed. The White Paper is a clear move away from Global Britain (the previous brand) back to something far more in partnership with the countries experiencing extreme poverty. The main objective of Overseas Development Assistance is poverty alleviation. In recent years, the UK government has discussed aid as a mechanism to deliver British interests.

There is also a return to the core principle of the SDGs: ‘Leave No One Behind.’ While the paper doesn’t use the language of ‘decolonising development’ as Hub Cymru Africa and others have spearheaded for the last 4 years, the paper adheres to the principles. It acknowledges that global financing isn’t fit for purpose and needs reform so that developing countries can access resources and money as more developed countries. It is necessary and reassuring that the global systemic issues are addressed in the paper, as well as the delivery of projects and programmes. 

There is a willingness to accept higher short term risk to strengthen ‘local leadership’. The UK will build on our globally recognised strengths and shift to partnership, prioritising mutual respect. ODA will be targeted at the lowest-income countries. For Wales and Africa groups, there are promising commitments to civil society.

Technology and digital are considered a priority in the future of development, and full consideration has been given to the challenges it poses, but mainly the opportunities i t presents. As an emerging area in development, there is the opportunity for people and groups with expertise to move into this area and gain government support.

What does this mean for groups in Wales?

The paper acknowledges the excellent work of civil society as delivery partners, thought leaders, and independent actors in their own right. As a result, there is a commitment to a new match funding offer, building on previous programmes like UK Aid Direct and UK Aid Match. Many groups in Wales who have previously succeeded in gaining DFID or FCDO funding will welcome the opportunity to apply again and diversify their income streams.

Wales has thriving cultural and creative industries. The paper highlights these sectors as being powerful and vital for global engagement. Institutions will harness UK expertise and use it to support skills development in local communities and protect the heritage of vulnerable nations.

The White Paper lays out ambitions to complement the efforts of diaspora communities who are active in international development. The paper recognises diaspora communities as a considerable asset for the UK domestically and globally. Sub-Sahara Advisory Panel (SSAP) is a crucial partner in Hub Cymru Africa and has supported diaspora communities in accessing funding and expertise. The UK government outlines an approach of support that extends to entrepreneurship and business investment. We hope this will lead to a stronger role for SSAP and the groups and charities they work with.

Wales and Africa communities have always prided themselves on the ‘Wales model’ which is community-led and mostly done in partnership with groups in Africa. This paper might be considered a road map for more of the sector to achieve what many groups in Wales have been modelling for years. 

The focus of the paper on working with the poorest and most fragile nations, many of which are in sub-Saharan Africa, is positive from the perspective of alleviating extreme poverty but also aligns with the priorities of the Welsh Government funded Wales and Africa programme and our longstanding relationships with Uganda and Lesotho.

Is there anything to be concerned about?

The UK faces fiscal challenges, which was never clearer for the development sector than when the UK government cut the  0.7% ODA budget. There is still only a commitment to returning to the higher budget when the fiscal situation allows. Our view is that this is likely to be after 2030. If the ambitions in the paper are to be met, we need a commitment and a rapid return to 0.7%. The paper is admirable in its ambition but needs to be met with financial ambition. 

The commitments to funding civil society with match funding will pose problems for many groups in Wales. Many groups do not have a strong fundraising strategy or donors and communities who will mobilise resources at the levels needed. Hub Cymru Africa will lobby for appropriate funding for groups in Wales that don’t penalise groups that lack the capacity to fundraise. 

The Minister clarified that there was cross-party support for the paper at a UK level. But when asked about support from the devolved governments, it was clear that the same commitment hadn’t been reached. For now, the paper aligns with much of the existing activity in Wales. But as development is not a devolved competency, UK Government decisions must reflect the needs in Wales. We hope there won’t be too much divergence in the future and that Wales will be represented when the paper moves into delivery and operationalisation.

Finally, from Hub Cymru Africa…

We will continue to review the position of the UK Government and ensure that our training, conferences and development support are relevant to the paper’s objectives. We can support groups to access FCDO funding, ensuring locally-led development, partnership, and poverty alleviation are at the centre of the work.