Let voters decide aid projects, say Tories

'X Factor'-style contest will determine where overseas aid money goes

Michael Savage,Political Correspondent
Monday 13 July 2009 00:00 BST

The people are to be given a direct say in how Britain's aid budget is spent under a Tory government as part of an "X-Factor-style" competition allowing them to vote for their favourite overseas project.

Aid experts accused the party of "populist gimmickry" over the policy last night, raising concerns that it would lead to some projects having their funding withdrawn, and discriminate against projects championed by smaller aid groups. The new initiative will be unveiled by David Cameron today as part of the launch of the party's aid policy.

Though an initial £40m will be placed in the "My Aid" fund in its first year, it may be expanded significantly to match the amount raised during the annual Comic Relief campaign, which raised £80m this year. Under the plan, people will be invited to vote for one of 10 aid projects through the website of the Department for International Development (DFID).

The site will include a history of each project, the impact it has achieved, details of how the additional money will be spent and a short film by the head of the project, setting out why they deserve to be backed. The £40m pot will be divided in proportion to the percentage of the vote for each initiative.

Everyone who votes will be kept up to date with their chosen aid project via emails. The party hopes the measure will capitalise on the growth of "personalised" aid donation through sites such as Kiva.org, which allows donors to hand money directly to individual entrepreneurs in poor countries, and GlobalGiving.com, through which donors can choose from a directory of aid projects across the world. Mr Cameron sees the plan as an important plank in his pledge to bring about a "post-bureaucratic age", giving people more say in the work of government and how their money is spent.

But some aid agencies warned that important work such as government reform, which may not gain much popular support, will lose funding. Others suggested that it risked putting projects backed by small NGOs at a disadvantage, because larger groups would be able to mobilise their supporters to back their own initiatives. "The proposal suggests a useful focus on ensuring the British public remain engaged with the importance of the UK's development efforts," said Alex Cobham, Christian Aid's policy manager. "But tying aid to specific projects is not always of benefit. This can undermine the development of effective governments, taking investment decisions that reflect people's preferences.

"Short-term specific projects are much easier to assess, but in the longer term our development efforts need to be focused on building effective states, and active civil societies which can hold governments to account."

John Hilary, the executive director of War on Want, said the fund smacked of "popular gimmickry". He added: "It is important to recognise that these are serious and complex issues and what may seem like a good thing to the public may be completely hopeless in reality."

Andrew Mitchell, the shadow International Development Secretary, argued it was "morally right to give people greater control" over how their money is spent. Mr Cameron will confirm his pledge to match Labour's commitment to raise aid spending to 0.7 per cent of Britain's GDP by 2013 at the launch of the One World Conservatism document today.

So which of these would you reject?

*Kenya: improving water supply and sanitation

*Bangladesh: Funding for adaptation to climate change

*Jamaica: police reform

*Malawi: budget support for the government

*Ethiopia: support for the social security system

*Rwanda: providing more help for the education sector

*Uganda: improving sexual health

*Sierra Leone: reconciling factions following the civil war

*General research into a vaccine for HIV/AIDS

*Funding the World Health Organisation's efforts to eradicate polio

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