Why is David Cameron handing out £12bn of our money to foreign thieves, dictators and charlatans?

Published by The Mail on Sunday (7th June, 2015)

Dear Prime Minister

It is a decade since we began striving together to transform the Conservative Party into a modern force fit for government, so I was delighted to see you confound your critics again at last month’s Election.

You can take great pleasure in your triumph. Last week, however, saw the hard slog start again of sorting out public finances with the latest cuts. Like many, I share your determination to improve the cost and delivery of state services.

Sensible voters will not quibble with fewer consultants in the Ministry of Justice or scrapping an expensive research programme into urban seagulls, let alone imposing a £23,000 cap on household benefits – something even Labour now supports.

But the £3billion of cuts announced on Thursday are just the start. And as you search for tougher savings, it seems bonkers to protect a ballooning foreign aid budget.

At a time of global uncertainty, another £500 million is coming off the defence budget. Yet every year the Government happily hands out a sum approaching this to Pakistan, whose security forces assisted the Taliban militants who killed British soldiers, and whose politicians do not pay tax.

International development spending is not just ring-fenced. Thanks to the stupidest law passed in modern memory – with the support of all major parties – the great British giveaway gets more generous each year as the economy grows.

The country is now legally bound to hit a bogus and outdated target to hand over 0.7 per cent of national income, which means officials search for new ways to fritter away cash rather than outcomes. Britain is already increasing aid spending faster than any other European nation. Countries such as Australia, Canada, France, Ireland, Japan and Spain have reduced the sums they dole out.

We are spending about £12 billion a year – the same amount you plan to slash from welfare budgets. Yet even as we fight welfare dependency at home, we encourage it abroad.

What makes this spending spree all the more absurd is how these handouts build up our debt. The domestic spending cuts are just to reduce the deficit; Britain is still expected to borrow £75 billion this year to make the books balance.

Where is the fiscal sense in a Conservative government running up bigger debts on behalf of all those hard-working families you pledged to protect only to spray cash around the planet on faddish, failing and flawed aid projects?

It defies logic to hack back domestic spending only to pump more and more borrowed cash into the pockets of charlatans and dictators abroad.

So £200 million is coming off public health budgets in Britain while a similar sum is spent on health and education in the repressive, one-party state of Ethiopia. Yet studies show aid entrenches despotic regimes, fuels conflict and leads to less state spending on healthcare.

British-backed projects in Ethiopia even supported brutal schemes to remove farmers from their lands. And £4 million went on the east African state’s answer to the Spice Girls.

Since you became Prime Minister, Britain has cut police budgets by 25 per cent in real terms while spending almost £200 million on police forces from Bangladesh to Malawi.

It is entirely defensible to cut spending on our police, especially amid falling crime. But this is made harder by paying for nearly two dozen new police stations in the Democratic Republic of Congo while closing 29 in Lancashire.

We also paid for ‘model police stations’ to tackle corruption in Nigeria – yet incredibly, the official aid watchdog found local people indicating an increase in police demanding bribes.

It was good to see you call for a global purge on corruption this weekend. But this flood of aid all too often encourages the bribery and theft you condemn.

Schools in Britain are protected from cuts. But your government seeks £450 million of savings from further and higher education budgets even as we pour billions into spending in this sector around the world.

The aid watchdog also found that £1 billion spent on education in three east African countries failed to improve basic literacy or maths skills. British officials boosted numbers attending schools but did not pay attention to whether children were learning anything.

Your Ministers love to reel off statistics about helping millions of children get into schools in the developing world. But your former adviser, Steve Hilton, told The Spectator last month of visiting an aid-sponsored school with you in Nigeria that was such a ‘disaster’ that families in slums chose instead to spend precious money on a fee-paying school.

Last month I reported for this newspaper on £400 million spent on the Caribbean island of Montserrat to aid recovery after a volcanic eruption. This built beach bars for the 4,900 citizens, but after 20 years the island’s hospital was still struggling in temporary accommodation.

Then I revealed soaring pay and surging profits at a cluster of consultancies cashing in on Britain’s aid boom, with bosses paid up to £271,000 a year and average salaries at one firm of £64,400. Clearly the poverty industry can be highly profitable, thanks to taxpayers’ largesse.

Although voters are sceptical about aid, we are forced to hand out £460 per household to ensure you and your colleagues at Westminster look compassionate.

I know you genuinely believe these policies are doing good. We have agreed to disagree on the issue. But don’t just listen to me. Listen to the Africans and Asians who increasingly resent the salvation fantasies of the self-serving Western aid industry. Or to the growing army of experts who expose the fallacy that rivers of foreign cash lift countries out of poverty.

Your aid pledge in opposition was designed to help the poor – but it was also part of a drive to persuade voters the Tories were no longer the ‘nasty party’.

Times have changed. And you have just won a convincing Election victory. But the more you cling to these outdated policies, the deeper the cuts you must make at home and the greater the risk of reviving that corrosive ‘nasty party’ imagery.

So please turn off those golden taps before it is too late. This torrent of aid cash is damaging to you, your party and to the people it is designed to help.

Yours sincerely,

Ian Birrell

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