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Mr. Thomas: Microfinance, or financial services for those on low or very low income, is a powerful tool to fight poverty and help reach the Millennium Development Goals. Approximately 50 million low income people have a loan from a microfinance institution, and at least 500 million have some form of bank account, but in some African countries still less than 10 per cent. of the population has access to a bank account.
Financial exclusion, or lack of access to financial services, acts as a constraint on economic growth and poverty reduction. Without access to loans, small enterprises can be restricted from expanding in size or into new markets. Families need access to a savings account, or to money transfer services, in order to ensure they have money at times of need, or to pay for education and other expenditure.
My Department is active in promoting access to financial services, including microfinance. DFID has funded financial sector and microfinance projects in 25 countries and is the major funder to the global Financial Sector Reform and Strengthening (FIRST) initiative. My Department was instrumental in setting up and supporting, the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), which is now made up of 29 international donor agencies. This is a resource centre for microfinance institutions and a centre of best practice for donors, Governments, and financial institutions. DFID also funds international agencies that actively support microfinance and financial sector development, such as the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation and the Asian Development Bank.
My Department has launched or designed eight country programmes to promote financial sector development, seven of which are in sub-Saharan Africa.
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In several cases these are co-funded with other donors. These programmes work to improve the policy, legal and institutional framework so that banks and other financial institutions are able to expand into microfinance, and in some cases provide direct support to financial institutions to do so. They also enable microfinance institutions to access training, management skills and technical assistance, and improve their governance and systems.
My Department jointly organised two high level conferences for the UN Year of Microcredit 2005, with the French and German Governments, that were attended by over 700 Government and donor representatives, as well as the private sector. We have a joint work programme with the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to promote financial inclusion through agreeing measures and targets for access to financial services by poor households.
DFID's Financial Deepening Challenge Fund has supported innovation by the private sector to extend access to financial services. For example, this Challenge Fund provided a grant to a Kenyan financial institution that then also invested at least as much of its own money, resulting in access to financial services in remote rural parts of Kenya through satellite-linked land rovers. A telecommunications company was also assisted to develop mobile phone-based banking services for low income people in East Africa, which is a technology that offers potential for significantly improving access to financial services across Africa.
Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what progress has been made on the production of new operational guidelines for his Department's staff following the publication of Partnerships for Poverty Reduction: Rethinking Conditionality. 
Hilary Benn: Operational guidelines have been prepared in draft. Over the next few weeks, we plan to consult with a number of external partners (including other donors, and non-government organisations) before finalising the guidelines.
[holding answer 14 July 2005]: I refer the hon. Member to the reply given by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills to the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Pelling) on 14 July 2005, Official Report, columns 95758.
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Mr. Chaytor: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills if she will list the local authorities in which (a) all schools, (b) some schools and (c) no schools receive funding from the Aimhigher programme. 
Most funds for schools are routed from the Department to LEAs. Each LEA decides how to distribute these funds to schools. Some schools may also have received funds directly from their Aimhigher Area Steering Groups.
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