This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
Minister of State Alan Duncan’s speech at the UN Delivering as One conference in Hanoi, Vietnam on 16 June 2010.
Thank you Chair for allowing me to come to the floor again to speak on behalf of the UK Government. And my thanks again to the Government of Vietnam [and the Prime Minister of Vietnam] for the invitation to this important conference.
Let me start with a clear statement. My government supports Delivering as One. To me it seems the obvious thing to do. If programme countries say this is how you want the UN to work in your country - then we will support you. If Delivering as One enables the UN to respond to your priorities, we will support you. Quite simply if you want Delivering as One to succeed and shape the way the UN works in your countries, we will support you.
The broader context of the MDGs
You might have noticed that the UK has a new government. Unusually for us this is a coalition, where two political parties have agreed the government’s programme. But I can say that, in the case of international development, the negotiations were straightforward. Both parties are committed to addressing poverty and injustice in the world.
Where nine million children die before the age of five each year, half a million women die at childbirth, and seventy two million children do not go to school, we must play our full part. The UK is firmly committed to the Millennium Development Goals. And we support the UN for the contribution it can make to those goals.
New world reality
The last 18 months has seen the world’s worst economic crisis since the 1930s. This affects both developed and developing countries.
Our new government in the UK has inherited a huge budget deficit. Some argue that aid should be a casualty as we look for savings in public spending. I am pleased to say that our new government does not take that view. We remain firmly committed to increasing UK development assistance so that it reaches 0.7% by 2013. Furthermore we aim to enshrine this commitment in UK law.
Need to show results and impact of every £ spent
With this commitment comes far more scrutiny. Our taxpayers will be watching more closely how every pound is spent. So it’s no longer about what we spend. What matters is results. The number of children educated, people with access to safe water, mothers that have a safe birth. That’s what matters. The new UK government will be much tougher in ensuring our aid delivers value-for-money. This is as important for those we seek to help in other countries as it is for taxpayers in our country.
We will look hard at the partnerships we use for our aid. If we cannot see that our funding is well used we will stop it. And we will put it through another partner that can make a bigger difference for the poor.
UK Review of multilateral aid
That is why, as part of our new government’s commitment to results, we are reviewing our funding through multilateral organisations such as the World Bank and the United Nations. This multilateral aid review will inform decisions on the levels of core funding for individual organisations.
The unique role of the United Nations
This conference is about one of our partners: the United Nations. The United Nations has a unique mandate and is uniquely placed to help where others cannot. If the UN were not there we would create it. But I’m not sure we would create it with thirty or more separate bits all working on development.
The UN has a fundamental role as a peacekeeper, a peace builder, in delivering humanitarian aid, helping countries out of crisis and upholding global standards. It helps reduce maternal mortality, build democratic governance and promote gender equality.
I was in Nepal recently, where the UN is playing a key role, not only in development, but also in supporting the peace process.
Yes the UN remains relevant today.
However, is the way it works at country level fit for purpose?
Too often the UN is seen as bureaucratic, fragmented and inefficient, with too many agencies trying to do too many things.
In Bangladesh, for example, there are ten UN agencies, employing around fourteen hundred people, spending two hundred and sixty million dollars a year. The UN in Bangladesh achieves results, such as improved food security and nutrition, decent sanitation and clean drinking water, better policing, and increased resilience to climate change. But the impact is much less than it could be. Why? Because the Resident Coordinator does not have real authority. And we have the absurdity of a well-crafted UN Development Assistance Framework, that sets out what and how the UN can “Deliver as One”, undermined because each agency has to abide by its own country strategy. So they don’t work as one, they work as ten.
So yes, the UK will increase its development spending. But for the sake of people in poverty the money we provide through the UN must deliver results. This is what I mean when I say value for money.
Delivering as One can and is helping… but needs to go further, faster…
In the UK we have an initiative at the local government level called ‘Total Place’. This is an important experiment that responds to the multiplicity of local service providers to identify overlap, duplication and gaps and improve service provision. Sounds familiar? The issues behind Delivering as One are very similar.
Delivering as One responds to fragmentation and duplication, bureaucracy and inefficiency. The aim is not to benefit donors, but to benefit programme countries and the poor in those countries. Just as we would invent the UN if it did not exist, if Delivering as One did not exist I believe we would definitely want to invent it.
It is positive to see that beyond the eight pilots there are another 10, maybe 20, countries taking forward Delivering as One. More countries I am sure will follow once they see improved UN delivery in your countries.
But as we have all said we need to move up a gear. Delivering as One must bring a step change to how the UN works in a country.
In my speech on behalf of donors I mentioned three areas that are fundamental to the success of Delivering as One: leadership, sustainability and results. I believe we need to go further and faster on these.
The UN needs empowered country leaders with the right skills for their difficult roles. I call on all members of the UN Development Group to ensure that Resident Co-ordinators are empowered to lead their UN country team. And they must have the authority to prioritise the UN’s limited resources in country, so the UN does a few things well rather than spreading itself too thinly.
Second, sustainability requires support from programme countries, from donors and, as the country-led evaluations have shown, from UN headquarters. I call on agencies to simplify and harmonise procedures, so that efficiencies can be made at country level. I call on UN headquarters and Executive Boards to reduce bureaucracy such as multiple reporting for countries that deliver as one. And I call on agency headquarters to send a clear message to country teams about supporting one leader, one plan and one budget.
Third, sustainability can only be ensured if we can show results. As the country-led evaluations have shown, unless we define our objectives it will be impossible to explain what we have achieved. So, for each country, we need to set out what results we want to see. Results in terms of efficiency gains, division of labour, alignment with government plans. And, most importantly, results in terms of its impact on the lives of the poor.
Looking forward, the UN should take the principles of Delivering as One and make them relevant to post-crisis or emergency situations as well as stable development contexts. But success in these situations will require real progress in reducing transaction costs.
We hope soon to see the creation of a new UN gender agency. Reassuringly this will combine four existing bodies. This is a great opportunity. But success will require the UN truly to Deliver as One. We want to see one gender plan, with a practical division of labour, with resources going to the highest priorities, and with strong UN leadership on the whole issue of gender equality.
Back in the UK I need to be able to tell my voters that every pound spent on development is a pound well spent. Delivering as One - if we can show that it makes a real difference to the lives of the poor - can help make the case for the UN’s role.
So my message is that yes the UN is unique. But it is too often seen as bureaucratic and resistant to change. Delivering as One and the bravery of a few countries and a few leaders have shown that the UN can change. We now need to take this to the next level. The pace needs to speed up. Taxpayers don’t want to hear about mandates or governance in New York. UN politics must not be allowed to prevent change that will benefit programme countries. So I urge all of us here to speak with one voice. We must champion Delivering as One for the difference it can make to the UN. We must champion Delivering as One for the difference it can make for programme countries. And, above all, we must champion Delivering as One for the difference it can make for the people we are working to get out of poverty.