2003 Métiers et carrières de la coopération urbaine – Radical changes in DFID. Some reflection on their impact

Document préparé par Caroline Martin, sous la direction de Antoine Olavarrieta, Françoise Reynaud et François Vergès, AdP c/o ISTED – Villes en développement.

Radical changes in DFID. Some reflection on their impact.

Patrick Wakely, Professor of Urban Development, Development Planning Unit of the University College London.

Earlier this year the Policy Division of the British government’s Department for International Development (DFID) went through a major organisational change that could have a significant impact on international support to urban development and poverty reduction in urban areas.
For the last thirty years, professional and technical advice have been given to DFID’s country programs, and the regional divisions that administer UK development co-operation to Africa, Asia and the Caribbean through a system of full-time Advisers grouped in professional departments (Economic, Health, Education, Social Development, Natural Resources, Infrastructure and Urban Development, etc.). Each of these departments was headed by a Chief Adviser who controlled two budgets : one that allowed the contracting of specialist advice and technical assistance; and the other for commissioning research. In the case of the Infrastructure and Urban Development Department (IUDD) this amounted to some £40 million annually for technical assistance and consultancy and £18 million for the Knowledge and Research (KaR) programme.
Under the leadership of the head of the IUDD, Chief Engineering Adviser John Hodges, DFID gained enormous respect and became highly influential in urban development and urban poverty reduction amongst the international donor community. For example IUDD (DFID) provided substantial financial and technical support to UN-Habitat and, together, with the World Bank, had a significant role in the development of the Cities Alliance. It had an important influence on the UNDP/UN-Habitat Urban Management Programme and supported the UNDP/UN-Habitat Sustainable Cities Programme. At the same time, through the commissioning of studies, the dissemination of best practices and the KaR Urbanisation Research Program, IUDD had a significant impact on understanding the importance of urban areas to national development, recognising the special characteristics of urban poverty and in promoting good urban governance, participation and community-led development. Its strategic approaches to these issues were captured in the DFID target strategy paper “Meeting the Challenges of Poverty in Urban Areas” (2001).
The current changes have been made in order to ensure that as much as possible of the UK aid budget goes directly to reducing poverty in developing countries. The Policy division is reducing its spending by a third and dispersing the advisors and their departmental budgets to the regional and county programs and to a series of short-life “issue specific” teams in the Policy Division. Amongst the teams there is currently ine concerned with Urban-Rural Change (URC) to which three members of the former IUDD Urban Group are attached. However, the issues with which it is principally preoccupied do not embrace many of those that were central to the concerns of the former IUDD Urban Group. Michael Parkes, the Senior Urban Adviser, is a half-time member of the Policy Division. His other post is in DFID’s International Division, which deals with the multi-lateral aid agencies (The United Nations, World Bank, European Union, etc.) Thus he is well placed to influence the continuation of support to UN-Habitat, the Cities Alliance, the urban support programmes of the EC, etc. There is, however, no guarantee that the IUDD Urban Team once enjoyed.
It remains to be seen whether the British Government’s championship of support to poverty reduction through urban development in the South will continue under the reorganised DFID Policy Division, or whether it will join USAID, the Netherlands, SDA (Switzerland) and CEDA (Canada), all of whom have drastically reduced their urban support programs in recent years. Whatever the outcome, the DPU will continue to exert what pressures it can to keep urban issues high on the development co-operation agenda.