FCO and DfID merger seen as failure, survey of officials finds

Civil service leaders’ union says just 7.5% of respondents believe creation of Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has been a success
Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office sign Photo: James Landale/Twitter

By Jim Dunton

29 Sep 2021

One year on from the controversial merger of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with the Department for International Development, fewer than one in 10 senior officials believe the move has been positive for international development, a survey has found.

The FDA union, which represents public sector leaders, said a poll of members commissioned to mark the first anniversary of the creation of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office found that just 7.5% of respondents considered the merger a success.

According to the survey, 81% of FDA members at the new department said they were nervous about the future of international development when the merger was announced last summer. After a year in which the government ditched the nation’s commitment to spend 0.7% of gross domestic income on Official Development Assistance, just 10% of survey respondents said they now felt “more positive about the future” than they had when the merger plan was announced.

The FDA said it had become “immediately clear” that members were genuinely concerned about the impact of the merger on their career prospects, with 79% expressing negative sentiments about their professional development in the new department.

Victoria Jones, who is the FDA’s national officer responsible for the FCDO, said that in the initial weeks following the merger it was evident that there had been “significant concerns” about the merger from both the FCO and DfID sides.

“Worries around missed benefits and potential detriment were common, and members had concerns that rather than combining the best of both worlds, they’d end up with the worst,” she said.

“As we mark the one-year anniversary of the merger it’s clear that there is still a lot of work to do, not only to unite the cultures of two very different departments, but to ensure staff are supported to deliver the vital work that they are employed to do. Alongside this, the majority of the technical aspects of the merger still remain unsolved.”

The FDA survey was contained in a report launched to mark the establishment of the union’s new Association for Development and Diplomacy branch.

One FDA member quoted anonymously in the report said international development work had “clearly been downgraded” as a result of the merger, and said it was “totally evident” that the machinery of government change was in fact an FCO takeover of DfID.

“I for one am gutted and demotivated at needing to spend my time closing down good programmes that make a difference for the poorest,” the unnamed official said. “We’re already seeing good people vote with their feet and leave.”

Another respondent said: “Development is not important in the FCDO. Our mission to reduce poverty has been dropped.”

They continued: “There is no discussion/analysis of development issues like there was in DfID… it’s so depressing.”

An FCDO spokesperson said: “Our employees have worked tirelessly over the last year to promote and defend the UK, deal with crises and fight global challenges, including climate change and the root causes of poverty.

“They have done this while working through a complex and ambitious merger and against the backdrop of a global pandemic.

“Our integrated department brings together the best of what we do in aid and diplomacy, maximising the impact our world-leading development and foreign policy experts have across the world.”

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