The best job in government

An open letter to Penny Mordaunt, new Secretary of State for International Development, from Kevin Watkins, CEO of Save the Children UK.

Dear Secretary of State,

I’d like to congratulate you on being appointed Secretary of State for International Development. This is the best job in Government, and one that holds the unique potential to transform millions of lives. When I took up my role as CEO of Save the Children just over a year ago, it was exactly this prospect – saving and transforming children’s lives for the better – that excited me, and still motivates me to fight for children every single day.

Your Department is a world leader in development. Its leadership contributed to halving global poverty under the Millennium Development Goals, and spearheaded an ambitious set of new Global Goals that include the core principle of putting the hardest to reach first. The UK was one of the first leading economies to meet the global commitment to spend 0.7% of our income on aid, and DFID now sets the highest standards on aid effectiveness, transparency and value for money.

I am proud of the fact that the UK is amongst the first to act when catastrophe strikes – and your Department makes this possible. DFID initiated bold and quick interventions to combat Ebola, and respond to recent food security crises in East Africa, which not only saved lives but also put in place the infrastructure needed to build the foundations for a more resilient future.

British leadership and soft-power in development is recognised all over the world. I am convinced that it is often bold and quick DFID action that triggers others to follow, and raises the global bar to save more lives, build better futures and ensure we are all more accountable to taxpayers. At a time when illnesses, conflict and natural disaster threaten the progress of the past fifteen years, your leadership in aid and development is now more important than ever.

We look forward to working with you to foster progress in the fight against poverty and inequalities despite these challenging times, and would like to start with a joint effort to end child deaths from pneumonia. This is not one of the diseases which gets widespread international attention. Yet pneumonia kills two children every minute, most of them under the age of two. Having spent time visiting Save the Children’s paediatric units and nutritional clinics – many of which are supported by DFID – I have witnessed first-hand the cruel tragedy of a small child gasping for breath and dying from this treatable disease. Pneumonia is deadly for the poorest and most marginalised children – yet lives could be saved through better primary healthcare, access to cheaper vaccines, scaling up for nutrition, and through simple antibiotics at a cost of less than 40 US cents. British leadership has helped to virtually eradicate polio, reduce deaths from malaria and diarrhoea and extend the power of vaccination to millions of children. Now is the time for bold action on pneumonia. We have set out a practical, achievable and affordable agenda that could save a million more lives over the next five years. We very much hope that under your leadership, DFID take on this challenge.

We also count on your leadership to make UK development aid the best it can be. At a time when UK Aid spending is coming under even greater public scrutiny, it is critical that we have an open and honest debate around the kind of aid we want Global Britain to champion – particularly now that the 0.7% commitment has received widespread political support.

In the past few months DFID has secured ambitious changes – both here in the UK and at the international level – that will make aid better value for money and increase its impact. This task is far from being finished and we hope to work with you to carry forward the torch of reform.

An increasing amount of aid is now being spent by other government departments. In some cases this may be justified, yet DFID is the world leader when it comes to saving lives and extending opportunity. When it comes to transparency and accountability, no other government department rivals the standard met by DFID. As you work to ensure that all UK aid meets the highest standards as part of a coherent, cross-government approach to poverty reduction, we would urge you to protect DFID’s independence and ensure that the Department oversees all UK aid. The evidence is clear: an independent DFID is central to Britain’s global standing.

Your appointment couldn’t come at a more critical yet exciting time. We wish you every success in a role that holds the privilege and potential to save lives, lead on ongoing reforms, and raise the bar higher so children can thrive no matter where they live. We look forward to working with you to take us closer to a world where no child is left behind, and where every country is able to stand on its own two feet.

Yours sincerely,

Kevin Watkins
CEO, Save the Children UK

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