Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 60)



  40. Yes, that is what I want you to do?
  (Mr Ireton) As an organisation, we have increased the number of people in the field; we have to manage staff, we have staff at certain times in their careers who do not wish to work overseas, they wish to be in London, they have spouses, who have careers.

  41. Quite understandable.
  (Mr Ireton) They have children and schooling and all the many things that you and I have to cope with, and have coped with, at least, at some stage in our life. So we have to manage that ourselves; and I can well imagine that in Brussels they are facing exactly the same issue. If you bring staff into an organisation, which fundamentally is concentrated in one geographical location, and then you decide to change that, you are going to have a change management issue, not only in terms of expertise but how do you then manage these expectations of staff, do you lose staff, do you have to bring in new staff, do you give additional incentives, and so on. This is a real issue for DFID. So I am not making value judgements about people in comfortable locations.

  42. It was not a flippant comment, I hasten to add, but it is a very real issue. Indeed, I note, in part of the evidence we received from BOND, that, with the three, DG Development, DG RELEX, the old SCR coming together into EuropeAid, it said, with over 1,000 staff, it is clear that EuropeAid is more than adequately staffed. Would that be the opinion of DFID as well?
  (Mr Smith) I think we have recognised that the Commission has been understaffed. I think the Secretary of State's particular point of view, which was widely shared, was that the Commission could not use understaffing as the exclusive reason, the excuse, for underperformance, it was not, there are major structural issues and policy issues that had to be addressed as well. Now that we are in a reform process, we, the Secretary of State, the UK Government, have supported the provision of extra staff, we supported it during the budget process last year, and we have supported it during the budget process this year, in the context of the reform process. So we are providing for extra staff. And we have also encouraged the Commission to do what they are doing, which is to provide for more contracted staff, not permanent staff, which is an essential element of all of our operations; you need mid career development professionals who are able to go to a country for three, four, five years and play a major role in that operation, and the Commission have taken that on board and are doing it. So I think staffing is being addressed, and the numbers in Brussels in EuropeAid are set to go down, they have increased during this year, as it has been established, but with deconcentration they will then be reduced and pushed out to the field.


  43. I am going to ask some brief questions about Country Strategy Papers. I am rather keen on Country Strategy Papers, there is a process that I can understand. How do the DFID Country Strategy Papers relate to the EU Country Strategy Papers?
  (Mr Ireton) Probably, we are going to see some generational change here. Our own first flush of Country Strategy Papers were fairly self-standing documents; although we consulted extremely widely, both in this country and obviously with the government of the country concerned, we set out a sort of broad analysis of what we saw as the development challenge issues, what other people were doing and then what we thought we could contribute to that process. And, I guess, pretty much, Brussels is now doing a very similar thing. The interesting thing for all of us is, if countries, particularly poorer countries, go down the route of Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers, a clear commitment to a strategy, increasingly, whether it is Brussels or London, we shall be buying into that, and then, if you like, saying perhaps somewhat more succinctly, given the strategy, this is what we think we can do best to help; and that is how I would like to see Brussels going but also ourselves and others. It may be some time before we get to this millennium, as it were, and, in order for those papers to make any sense when they are published, they have to be put in a context of a PRSP, and some judgement by ourselves as to whether we think we have really got a solid basis for helping. Within the European Union, there is consultation on the Country Strategy process, we get involved at an early stage informally, where we can, and we are formally involved towards the end when they are agreed, and our own geographical staff, that is an important point to make. The Commission's Country Strategy Papers are not something which simply Anthony and his department worry about and the rest of the department get on with their own Country Strategy Papers and never the two shall come together, we very much encourage our country-based staff, whether it is in Tanzania, or wherever, to be involved informally with this process within the Commission, and, indeed, to come and discuss these in Brussels at the relevant meetings. So there is quite a number of ways in which these things pull together. So we hope there is a considerable coherence.

  44. At some stage, what would be quite helpful would be just to have a note of which Country Strategy Papers have been published so far, and the timetable for future Country Strategy Papers?
  (Mr Ireton) Yes.[10]

  45. I am right in thinking, am I not, that DFID Country Strategy Papers are actually published?
  (Mr Ireton) Yes.

  46. Are EU Country Strategy Papers published, do I find them on the Net somewhere? I see nodding heads at the back. Why are DFID Country Strategy Papers published and EU Country Strategy Papers not published?
  (Mr Smith) They have not been yet. We had the framework established last year and we have started producing them this year; this year, all of the ones for African, Caribbean and Pacific countries will be produced, most of them, when I say this year, it will probably go into January.

Mr Robathan

  47. We have got 27 days left?
  (Mr Smith) They have done a lot, and somebody in my department spends all his time in Brussels, these days, going through them. I believe that they will be published once they are completed and approved etc. When I read the other submissions which raised this point, it made me think I had better check this, but certainly it was the intention at the time the new framework was established, and I think there would be a lot of difficulty around the Council if there were some delay with publications; but I will check on them.
  (Mr Ireton) It certainly would be our intention that they should be published.


  48. It is certainly very helpful, if you are going to a country like Côte d'Ivoire, or somewhere, where we do not have a large bilateral aid programme, and then we can actually see what the Community as a whole is saying. In a couple of sentences, can you just explain to me what the Inter-Service Quality Support Group is, who is it, what is it, and what relationship does it have to the Country Strategy Papers?
  (Mr Smith) As part of the reform process, when the Country Strategy Paper framework was established and EuropeAid established, it was agreed that there was a need for a major effort to bring the different departments together, RELEX, Development, EuropeAid, and ensure that there was a common framework for working. There is a history of Quality Support Groups around; there used to be one that looked at projects, you would get a really poor project designed, and then it would go to the Quality Support Group who would have to redesign it and send it back. This Quality Support Group is meant to vet Country Strategy Papers. It is chaired by Bernard Petit, who is the Director for Development, in DG Development, it has members of all of the other relevant Directorates General on it, so there is somebody from EuropeAid, somebody from DG RELEX, somebody from DG Enlargement, and Trade, as well, I think, and it simply looks at them. It has established guidelines for Country Strategy Papers, makes sure that they talk about complementarity with other donors, have you restricted the number of sectors, if a Paper comes in with four different sectors and activity, it will send it back. So it vets them before they are finally approved. That process has proved quite valuable, the Commission has found, and they are using the Quality Support Group to promulgate best practice, effectively.

  Chairman: That makes a lot of sense.

Hugh Bayley

  49. What steps are the Commission taking to evaluate their reforms and to learn from the evaluation, and do you believe that the evaluation should be carried out within EuropeAid or from outside?
  (Mr Smith) They have not evaluated the reform itself yet, though there is a schedule by which they will start doing that towards the end of next year, once it has been in place for about 18 months, or so. EuropeAid was established on 1 January 2001, so they want to give it a little bit of time before they start looking at it. In terms of evaluating programmes, they have an Evaluation Service, which carries out, I do not know, a couple of dozen evaluations a year, or so, in different areas, and those evaluations are, I think, fairly well-respected by their peers around the EU. There is a group of evaluation experts that meets periodically to talk about the evaluation programmes. Many of the evaluations are carried out jointly, so, for example, there is one at the moment on complementarity and co-ordination, which is being led by the Dutch, DFID is involved, but it is a Commission evaluation of their own programmes, so they are quite open about it. As to whether it should be carried out from within or without, I guess there are different models. The reform established that the Evaluation Service, although it sits in EuropeAid, reports directly to the Commissioners, so there is no intermediate management intervention, and, while not independent of the Commission, it has an independence within the Commission, within the normal structure. I do not know whether that is considered to be a good model or a bad one, it is, I suppose, similar to ours.
  (Mr Ireton) Yes, it is not dissimilar to our own evaluation system, which we generate internally but we use external consultants and experts actually to do individual studies, or synthesise studies, and, of course, we also publish those reports and they are put in the Library of the House, however critical they may be.

  50. Moving away from the evaluation of the reforms to the evaluation of the EU programmes, am I right in thinking that, within the UK, when we are looking at our programmes, the DAC reporting mechanisms allow us to identify how much of our aid spend is going on literacy and achieving the primary education targets, how much is going on poverty relief, how much is going in particular countries? Is it possible to say how much of the EU's

9 billion spend goes on literacy and achieving the primary education targets, for instance?
  (Mr Smith) It is not easily possible at the moment. The Commission do not have an electronic management information system, they are developing one, which they say will be ready in the middle of next year, but when Commissioner Nielson has been asked this several times at Development Councils, and said quite frankly that the position is unsatisfactory, he cannot say what percentage of EC programmes go to, for example, education, or health, or any sector you like. So it is quite unsatisfactory.

  51. Will the Commission adopt the same DAC reporting mechanisms as the Member States, so that comparisons can be made about how far policy is being realised, in practice?
  (Mr Smith) They have said that they will; this issue has come up in discussion between the Commission and the Parliament, particularly, over the budget, where some in the European Parliament have pushed for an explanation now and a commitment to particular levels of spending in different areas, linked to the DAC categories, and the Commission have said they do not have that capacity at the moment. But, in the course of that debate, they have realised that they needed a proper management information system and have told the Council that they are putting one in place.
  (Mr Ireton) Though it is an input measure, we would expect that, eventually, to be available in their annual report.

  52. It seems to me that the single reform that would do most to increase transparency and accountability of the EU aid programme would be to have in place the same DAC reporting regime as the Member States; would you agree with that?
  (Mr Ireton) Yes, absolutely.

  53. Why does the Commission not have output targets in its annual reports at the moment, and what is your Department doing to ensure that they do for the 2002 report?
  (Mr Smith) If you take the position a few years ago, when the DAC actually reviewed the EC programme, in 1997, a major criticism of that review was that you could not tell what the policy was, so there was no single statement of what its objectives were; the Development Policy Statement was meant to achieve that. In going along that road, we are pushing for objectives and targets, and it all goes together. If you have a programme with completely diffuse objectives, you do not have output targets, because it is too complicated, it goes against what you are trying to do. Now that we have a single policy, the Council as a whole has agreed that the annual report should be the main vehicle for providing objectives and measures of output and monitoring progress. They completely failed in the first report to follow the Council's request, it was made very clear to them, at the Development Council meeting in November, that the second report had to follow that model; the Commission said that they wanted to, and that they will consult widely in preparing the second report. And a major part of our department's work is going at the moment into getting agreement on corporate level objectives, increasing literacy in X number of poor countries, for example, as well as proper indicators at programme and country level which will allow us to monitor whether or not the programmes are being administered effectively and achieving their objectives.
  (Mr Ireton) And they will be incorporated in, say, Country Strategy Papers, or the annual review of a Strategy Paper.

  54. I think that is encouraging, but, like you, I wait to see what appears in the report. Could you just say a little bit more about how DFID works, through the Council of Ministers and bilaterally, with European counterparts, to achieve the sorts of reforms we have been talking about all morning; and how do you think our Government and your Department and Members of Parliament can work together better to drive this process forward?
  (Mr Ireton) You might like to say something about the actual mechanics, and then I will come back on the other thing.
  (Mr Smith) We work through, as you can imagine, a range of mechanisms, we work bilaterally, we go and visit Member States or exchange visits and talk about objectives; we work with the Commission, we have increased the number of DFID people in our representation in Brussels, to ensure that we have more capacity for influencing the Commission on its programme management. In the past, we have had only one person who has just had to go to working groups all the time, and basically not be more active.

  55. Could you just let us have a note on the numbers of people you have there now and the numbers that the other main Development players have?
  (Mr Smith) Sure.[11]

  (Mr Ireton) Yes.

  56. Thank you. I am sorry to interrupt.
  (Mr Smith) What we are trying to achieve, I think, is two main things. We have been trying to build political support for a poverty-focused development policy, and that started many years ago and we worked through the DAC review, as an important staging-post, and a global evaluation of EC programmes, which we promoted, and finally got a policy last year, which came about during the French Presidency. France has often been our adversary in reform of EC development programmes, and it was extremely encouraging that they produced a very good draft and encouraged a very good final product during their Presidency; so that was, I think, partly a result of the changing atmosphere in the international community, but also reflected some of the conversations and discussions that we had. We are also trying to get proper systems in place, so that even if there is a new crisis with pressure for increased spending in the near-abroad, or something like that, you will have proper management systems in place which say, `okay, what is most effective, where, and how can we ensure a long-term perspective, so that development policy maintains its focus on poverty and is not distracted and blown off course by changing events.' And we do that partly by providing expertise to the Commission, we second about 20, or so, DFID staff to the Commission at any given point, partly by working with other Member States who are active in the international development work in the OECD and other places, to try to have a dialogue with the Commission about management issues, and with other Member States to get acceptance of changes, when necessary. So there is a variety of bilateral and collective ways in which we try to reach a common understanding of problems and develop ideas to solve those, and to convince the Commission and other Member States to adopt them. I could come back in a moment about ways in which parliaments could work together.
  (Mr Ireton) The only thing I would add to that perhaps, Anthony, is, in addition to that, we mentioned earlier, it is very important that our people in a county have a dialogue with Commission staff, one reason that we encourage deconcentration, because one can influence policy from bottom up as well as top down, so we see that as quite key. Also, very broad discussions go on of a policy nature, for example, between various advisory cadres and their opposite numbers in Brussels, so we can influence policy towards a particular issue, whether it is education or health or water, through those sorts of professional contacts as well as actually having people seconded into Brussels to boost the technical capacity.
  (Mr Smith) Can I just follow up on the issue of working with parliaments and others. I think this is extremely important, because there can be a depressing tendency to live up to national stereotypes, as you go round the Community, and you go to Spain and all they care about is fish and the Mediterranean, or when you go to Sweden, and they are brilliant multilateral advocates. And to get many changes it is simply not enough to have a good argument and get a few allies in the Council, you need broader political support that comes through in national parliaments and the European Parliament and in civil society, campaigns by civil society on some key issues are extremely valuable. And any dialogue about these issues which can take place between informed Members of Parliament I think would be very helpful, especially between those that might not see each other so much; we have to make an effort, as officials, to go to some of the countries which are not our traditional allies, the tendency is to speak to people who agree with us more than to ones who do not.


  57. Can I just ask a couple of idiot questions. Before we started, we had a really esoteric discussion amongst us about the difference between EC and EU. I do not want you to answer this now, but could you just drop us a note as to what you understand the difference is?
  (Mr Ireton) Yes.[12]

  58. Secondly, I think, when we discuss all this, we assume that we all know the mechanisms by which the UK pays our subscription to the European Union; this is an Emperor's new clothes question. I am not sure actually that we all do. And, again, a note; because if we manage to extract more money out of the Chancellor for development aid, do the Community proportionately take more of it, or is it like an annual subscription, that once you have paid your annual subscription to the European Union any more that we can extract from the Chancellor for the Department is actually more for our bilateral programme? And I think it would be helpful to know that.
  (Mr Ireton) The answer, broadly, to that, is the latter, that we pay a share of the EC budget that goes to overseas aid, and how much that is going to cost us depends on a whole range of decisions that are then made about the external envelope, and so forth; but once that has been made, and provided we can contain that envelope, the other major charge to us is the European Development Fund, which is not on the European budget, it is negotiated periodically and we make a contribution, which is also negotiated, and we have an expected share of that. And so both of those appear as a charge against our own departmental budget, one of which is paid directly, the European Development fund, we pay that directly from our voted expenditure, which Parliament votes; the other is simply what is called `attributed', our share of the budget is simply attributed to our departmental expenditure limit, and that is paid by the Treasury, it is sort of deducted from the top. But we can give you a note to cover it more fully.[13]

  (Mr Smith) If DFID's budget goes up, that share does not go up, so it is more available for bilateral—

  59. A good incentive then to try to get more money for DFID?
  (Mr Ireton) Indeed.

  60. We are seeing the Secretary of State, I think, in February, and one comment that colleagues made, before you came in, is how does one get more information about the agenda for the Council of Ministers meetings, and actually what is decided at Council of Ministers meetings, because, clearly, within the context of the European Union, this is where political decisions are taken, and needs to have, I think, some better understanding of which players are doing what. And if the Council of Ministers meetings are a complete secret garden, you know, secret meetings, it is very, very difficult to actually have some understanding of which parties are playing what, and I think it is something that we will want to ask the Secretary of State; so just giving you notice of that, how do we make Council of Ministers meetings more transparent, because, clearly, there is some political pressure there.
  (Mr Ireton) Yes.

  Chairman: Thank you very much for an extremely interesting session, quite a lot of which is very

technical, and having given us some extremely full answers, and much appreciated. Thank you very much.

10   Ev 16. Back

11   Ev 16. Back

12   Ev 16 and Ev 17. Back

13   Ev 17. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 23 April 2002