Power for Good

Every year, the Queen gives a speech to the UK Parliament outlining the policies that the government of the day intends to introduce over the coming year. It is an opportunity for the government to set out its priorities, for opposition parties and special interest groups to give their reactions and, as often as not, for the media to have a field day.

What is not said in the speech can be as instructive as what is, and the content of this year's speech is a case in point. Westminster-watchers and aid and development agencies alike anticipated confirmation of the government's declared aim of fixing the overseas aid budget at 0.7% of gross domestic product (GDP). Perhaps because of a perceived unpopularity with voters, this announcement never came and the reaction from organisations like Action Aid and Tearfund was swift. Accusations of broken promises were made, along with declarations of bitter disappointment and warnings about the likely impact on recipient nations' ability to effectively plan their development, with Action Aid's Melanie Ward saying, "Having it enshrined in law would provide poor countries with the certainty they need to plan their development and deliver the best value for money from UK aid."

So, was the absence of planned legislation on UK aid levels a reflection of government nervousness about possible public reactions, or a sign of the issue sliding down the government's list of priorities? Having seen the impact that international aid has in those isolated, off-grid areas of the world where Freeplay's products are most-used, we have to hope that the government's original intentions remain and that this is a delay, not a downgrade.

And to those who doubt the wisdom of providing financial aid at a time of economic constraint, it is perhaps worth a reminder that aid is not about 'being nice', but about investing in the health, development and stability of potential trading partners. If we invest adequately and imaginatively now, we will reap the rewards in the long term.

So, the UK government's commitment to providing a fixed percentage of GDP as international aid may not be realised over the coming 12 months, but there is one more Queen's Speech before the next general election and, with it, one more chance to get it right.

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