Tories attacked on cuts in overseas aid

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Indy Politics

The tea ladies in Conservative Central Office will be serving Fair Trade coffee tomorrow as Bob Geldof and dozens of leading figures from aid organisations arrive for an exchange of opinions with Michael Howard.

What they will be shown is the new, caring face of the Conservative Party as Mr Howard and the shadow Development Minister, John Bercow, listen to hear what charities such as Oxfam, Christian Aid and the Fairtrade Foundation want any future Tory government to do for them.

But what the Tories will actually do, Labour claimed yesterday, is take a huge lump out of Britain's aid budget amounting to more than twice the annual aid to three of Africa's poorest nations.

Mr Howard's determination to put a lid on public spending, in the hope of cutting taxes, means that all government department budgets, apart from education and health, would be frozen for two years.

The shadow Chancellor, Oliver Letwin, said earlier this month: "I have agreed with my Shadow Cabinet colleagues that the baseline for spending across all of these department budgets will be 0 per cent growth for the first two years."

Mr Bercow, speaking at a conference organised by the think-tank IPPR last week, admitted: "I cannot say to you that a freeze would not apply to the international development budget."

Paul Boateng, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, released figures yesterday to illustrate the impact of this proposed spending freeze.

The annual budget of the Department for International Development is £4,526m. If that figure is allowed to keep pace with inflation, it will reach £4,755m by 2007-08. But a cash freeze would hold it at £4,526m - equivalent to a £229m cut.

The poorest country in Africa is Sudan, which receives £14m in UK aid every year. Sierra Leone receives £40m and Ethiopia £57m, making a combined total for those three states of £111m, less than half the sum the Tories propose to cut from the department's budget.