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UK Politics

Exclusive: Ministers rebuff Tony Blair over Africa charity funding

The International Development Secretary Justine Greening rejects ex-PM’s request for money to support work of foundation

Senior Conservative ministers have rebuffed an attempt by Tony Blair to get millions of pounds of Government money to support the work of his personal foundation in Africa.

The Independent understands that Mr Blair met the International Development Secretary, Justine Greening, in May to discuss the former prime minister’s Africa Governance Initiative (AGI).

Senior sources in Whitehall said Mr Blair raised the possibility of Ms Greening supporting a move to continue to expand the programme’s work. But Ms Greening rebuffed him and told him that he should not expect to get Government money.

“It was a perfectly amicable conversation but the Secretary of State made clear that Mr Blair should not expect Department for International Development (Dfid) money,” they said.

“Justine has personally to approve any funding programme over £1m and I think he understood this was not something the Government would look favourably upon.”

But Tory MPs went further. Priti Patel said it was “astonishing” that Mr Blair should even be approaching Dfid about Government support.

“With all the money he’s made from consultancies, speeches and other work since quitting as prime minister, it is astonishing to see Tony Blair asking for taxpayers’ cash,” she said. “Decisions on aid budget spending should be made carefully and transparently and the International Development Secretary was right to stand up to his request.”

This is not the first time Mr Blair has tried to get funding for the AGI, which aims to improve the capacity of African governments to provide public services.

In 2011, when Ms Greening’s predecessor Andrew Mitchell was running the department, AGI made two separate applications to become a contractor for Dfid and also applied for a grant from a £40m fund to fight poverty, but both were turned down.

The latest Dfid accounts show the department spent £700m on “government and civil society” schemes across the world in 2011-12.

At the time of the correspondence with Mr Mitchell, Mr Blair described AGI’s work as “a major part of a successful future for Africa” and repeatedly stated that he would like the chance to discuss his work “in person”.

“I would welcome discussion with you on broader political developments in Africa, and the ways in which AGI can support the UK’s development agenda both in our current countries and, in the future, elsewhere,” Mr Blair wrote, adding: “I have asked my office to look into a time for us to meet.”

In a handwritten section, he added: “We are really excited by our capacity-building work. I think it is a major part of a successful future for Africa.”

A Dfid spokesman said: “Dfid currently provides no funding to the Africa Governance Initiative and the AGI has recently made no applications for funding.

“Justine Greening met Tony Blair to discuss development issues in May 2013. The AGI works in several countries where Dfid has a presence and it is treated like any other potential supplier when it comes to bidding for Dfid work.”

A spokesperson for Mr Blair denied that any specific request for funding had been made to Dfid: “No application, formal or informal, has been made to Dfid under Justine Greening for funding for the Africa charity,” they said.

AGI, which employs 32 people, was set up by Mr Blair in 2008 and currently works in Guinea, Liberia, Malawi, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and South Sudan.

Its aim is to help African governments to run more effectively, and it places full-time staff alongside political leaders to advise on programmes and communication.

AGI’s latest accounts show that it had an income of £3.1m, of which £2.3m came from grants. Last year it was awarded £500,000 by the US Agency for International Development – a body then ultimately overseen by Hillary Clinton. There is no suggestion that Mr Blair used his personal connections with Mrs Clinton to secure the grant.