Premier League backs foreign aid as Cable and Fox wade in
Overseas aid in the spotlight as business leaders support international development spending
AMID the jockeying for influence ahead of George Osborne's Budget next week, the future of Britain's overseas aid programme is in the spotlight.
Former cabinet minister Liam Fox and Lib Dem Business Secretary Vince Cable have today called for an end to the ring-fencing of certain budgets, including the NHS, schools and international development.
At a speech in London, Fox said he wanted to "freeze public spending for at least three years" to fund tax cuts, while Cable told Radio 4's Today programme that he did not believe ring-fencing was "a very sensible" idea.
The New Statesman said that the pair could be "about to form an unlikely alliance" in demanding spending cuts in politically sensitive areas. And of the departments with ring-fenced budgets, the most obvious place to make cuts would appear to be at DFID [Department for International Development].
Last week the Daily Mail welcomed plans to divert foreign aid to British companies working overseas rather than "corrupt and wasteful regimes". It also reported: "The Government has faced huge hostility for sticking with its target of spending 0.7 per cent of national output on foreign aid, while departments at home are cut."
However, business leaders and football's Premier League, which has a huge following in developing overseas markets, have come out in favour of David Cameron's pledge to spend 0.7 per cent of annual income on foreign aid.
In a letter to the Financial Times, 27 executives, including Sir Andrew Witty of GlaxoSmithKline, and Robert Dudley of BP, said spending on aid was "not only the right thing to do, but a smart investment".
They added: "Developing countries become emerging economies and emerging economies became the engines of future global growth and prosperity."
The letter was co-ordinated by the charity Save the Children, whose director of policy Brendan Cox said it was important that business leaders entered the debate over such a "fraught issue" to support the government's position.
"This is very much about the private sector saying 'we work in these markets'," he explained.
BBC political editor Nick Robinson said the debate about public spending was "part of the battle being waged increasingly in public about the pitch the Conservatives should make at the next election if they are to avoid defeat".
However, he added that there was "no prospect" of Osborne following the advice of Fox and Cable next week. ·