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Doubling overseas aid would be ‘good deal’ for taxpayer

Doubling overseas aid would be ‘good deal’ for taxpayer

🕔21.Jan 2013

mitchellAndrew Mitchell has returned to the political fray for the first time since being forced to quit the Government over the ‘plebgate’ affair to call for a significant increase in the UK overseas aid budget.

The former International Development Secretary urged cabinet members to “stand up and make the case” for additional spending amid signs of increasing hostility from the Conservative grassroots.

In an interview with the Financial Times the Sutton Coldfield MP said ministers could “look the British taxpayer in the eye” in the knowledge that the money was being well spent in countries such as Ethiopia, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

His comments were delivered amid growing nervousness among Tory MPs about the Government’s commitment to spend an additional £2.5 billion on overseas aid this year, taking the total budget to £11.1 billion. The 29 per cent rise comes at a time when all other Whitehall departments are suffering extensive spending cuts as part of the Chancellor’s austerity plan.

Mr Mitchell faced a difficult time defending the overseas aid budget in fringe meetings at the 2010 Conservative conference, held in Birmingham just at the time when the extent of domestic spending cuts was becoming apparent. Tory delegates questioned the wisdom of handing large sums of money to India and Pakistan, two countries rich enough to develop a nuclear weapons programme.

He did not attend the 2012 conference, forced to stay away by fallout from plebgate allegations that he lost his temper with police officers guarding the Downing Street gates.

When he was finally forced to resign as chief whip, his Tory successor as International Development Secretary, Justine Greening, reportedly said that she “didn’t come into politics to distribute money to people in the third world”.

In his interview with the Financial Times Mr Mitchell said the overseas aid budget could be “spent twice over”. Referring to a recent visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mr Mitchell said: “You look into the eyes of people who are just like us, but who are absolutely dirt poor and who have nothing, and you understand…the ability we have to change that, and the huge national interest we have in changing it.”

Mr Mitchell has often been quoted as stating that commitment to international development is “part of the Conservative DNA”. He was credited with persuading the prime minister to set a target to spend 0.7 per cent of national income on overseas aid.

The most frequent criticism levelled by some of Mr Mitchell’s Conservative colleagues is that too much of the international development budget is misdirected and falls into the hands of corrupt third world governments.

Bill Cash, MP for Stone in Staffordshire, told the Financial Times: “Foreign aid is frequently wasted and misdirected and there is a big issue with corruption. We need to target part of our aid to essential aid such as water and sanitation and the other part to enterprise and the elimination of corruption. If we focused it all in this way we could cut the aid bill.”

Top spending for UK overseas aid 2011-12:

  1. Ethiopia £324 million
  2. India £284 million
  3. Bangladesh £219 million
  4. Pakistan £212 million
  5. Nigeria £162 million
  6. Afghanistan £146 million
  7. DR Congo £146 million
  8. Tanzania £139 million
  9. Somalia £101 million
  10. Kenya £98 million
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