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Summary: DfID adieu – I shall not lament your passing

DfID adieu – I shall not lament your passing
Written by Gwythian Prins

The abolition of DfID is a matter for celebration. It should never have been created. It was the wrong answer, underpinned with the wrong basic analysis and created with the wrong motives.

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Furthermore it is the first significant culling of one of the sacred cows created during the Blair era. There is a whole herd of quangos and unnecessary pieces of Whitehall and especially of the devolution experiment waiting to be slain and immolated on a Bonfire of the Vanities.

This is a summary of a longer Report by Professor Prins, which we are publishing separately. Read the full article here

But there are two immediate risks.

  • The first, and the greater, is that, the DfID budget being now four times that of the FCO, the risk of a reverse take-over is real and present unless active measures and a large redundancy programme are put in place immediately; and there is precedent. ‘Activist’ officials from the abolished department DECC were re-badged and took over significant parts of BEIS to national detriment.
  • Its Departmental culture being what it has been, DfID officials are if anything even more ideologically charged. They cannot change their spots and should not be asked to do so, but let go to return to their natural habitat in campaigning NGOs.
  • The second risk is that, given the Departmental culture of the FCO, the fervent EUphilia that was on display before, during and after the EU referendum, it must not be allowed to capture and repurpose the incoming ex-DfID new resources in further efforts to keep the UK tied to or subordinate to the EU in defiance of the will of the people and of the Government. A fresh start with a New Permanent Secretary is just what is needed.
  • DfID had ineradicable conceptual and structural flaws that made it unreformable. In the UK, we have departments ‘of’ things, not departments ‘for’ things. We have campaigning groups ‘for’ things. DfID introduced that fateful elision into Whitehall culture which the Blair years proliferated by its policy of high-level horizontal transfers into the Civil Service from campaigning NGOs like Oxfam. Nor did it deliver results for the people that it said it wanted to help. The ‘cashpoint in the sky’ was tapped for mad and bad things of which inter-governmental budget support was one.

There are deeper reasons why it had to die.

  • Foremost was its cultural arrogance and lack of basic skills to understand the people it claimed to help. Ironically it was a more arrogantly colonial enterprise than its late colonial predecessors. It also hitched itself to falling stars: the mid twentieth century transnational institutions (UN, EU, Bretton Woods) that are fading. It was ideologically hostile to the nation-state that funded it.
  • In 2007 I was commissioned by DfID to provide a five point plan that would remedy these defects and that would radically reshape the institutional priorities, the assessment and the delivery methods for British development aid so that they matched the requirements, goals and expectations that Global Britain will now, I hope, impose.
  • Thirteen years ago, my proposals were seen as rank heresy and cordially hated by DfID. I was accordingly anathematised. Now their time has come and so they are re-presented here to guide Dominic Raab, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, a new Permanent Secretary sympathetic to and aligned to these principles and a greatly reduced number of ‘development’ civil servants in the re-energised FCDO.


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About the author

Gwythian Prins