In a piece for British newspaper The Times, Grant Shapps said the UK’s Department for International Development should be absorbed by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office because DFID’s “culture, the way it hands out much of [its] money, is profoundly worrying”.
DFID is one of the most renowned development agencies in the world, and for the past few years has been the main vehicle for the country’s £12bn worth of aid spending.
The size of the UK’s aid budget conforms to a decades-old commitment by donors to spend at least 0.7% of national income on overseas aid. Britain is one of only a handful of countries to have achieved this goal.
But in recent years debate around whether the UK’s aid spending is appropriate has become increasingly heated.
Shapps defended the spending target, which some sections of the UK media are demanding be scrapped, but said it needs to be “spent wisely” and highlighted the difficulties of trying to maintain spending in line with the “ever-changing size of the economy”.
He said this can lead to a spending rush at the end of the year, and went on to criticise DFID for continuing to provide aid to countries whose governments had breached human rights.
“I did not feel comfortable signing off money while freedom of speech was being stifled and elsewhere women’s rights had yet to be recognised,” he wrote. “But culturally, DFID saw tying in such objectives as almost dirty.”
He lambasted the department for failing to wear British interests as a “badge of honour” and for spending that was “unstoppable, even out of control”.
“Saving lives is rightly DFID’s first objective, but all too often its hidden agenda is to shovel cash out of the door.”
Shapps, a Conservative MP who has also served as minister of state for the Foreign Office, said the work of the two departments needed to be brought back together to prevent the issues he raised.
“Otherwise, I fear a broad and growing reaction against aid could leave the world’s poorest without the help they badly need from Britain.”
A spokesman for DFID agreed that helping the poorest with UK aid is the “right thing to do, making the world safer, healthier and more prosperous”.
“There is no task more urgent than defeating poverty,” he said. “British leadership on the international stage is in our interest and is the only way to tackle global challenges that do not respect borders, such as conflict, mass migration and disease.
“The prime minister [Theresa May] has been clear that, as we exit the EU, Britain will be more, not less, outward-looking and engaged on the world stage. Intensifying our efforts on development is a crucial part of this.”