Summit allows aid agencies into talks

The United Nations' World Summit for Social Development pulled back from fiasco yesterday as officials agreed to allow non-governmental organisations (NGOs) into the negotiating sessions in Copenhagen. At the same time the UK appeared ready to provide limited backing to a call for 20 per cent of aid to go to basic needs.

Three of the biggest development charities, Oxfam, Christian Aid and Actionaid, had threatened to pull out after being debarred from committee sessions. But after intervention from Juan Somavia, the summit chairman, representatives of NGOs were allowed to accompany national delegates.

Patricia Feeney, Oxfam's policy adviser, said attempts had been made in the closed sessions to backtrack on commitments made at previous UN summits, including the agreement on women's access to reproductive health care reached last year in Cairo.

The value of the NGOs being in, she said, was that "governments will be more chary of doing dirty deals if their NGOs are present watching who is proposing and agreeing to what".

Nigel Twose, international director of Actionaid, said the summit appeared to have turned a corner with the admission of the NGOs and with Britain now likely to agree a version of the 20/20 proposal, in which 20 per cent of aid would go to basic social programmes in return for a country's agreement to spend 20 per cent of its budget on social programmes.

The idea is supported by the US and Britain's European partners who say that aid needs to be re-ordered in the absence of new resources. The UK had been resisting, arguing that quality of aid mattered more than quantitative targets.