Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Conservative plans mean that foreign aid will continue to be wasted on vanity publishing

By Alex Singleton


If there’s one thing that the Department for International Development should scrap immediately, it’s a magazine called “Developments”. This has been costing taxpayers £400,000 a year and is distributed free of charge – well, no one in their right mind would pay for it. It reads like a magazine in search of a purpose, and is so boring that my copy normally goes into the bin within 30 seconds of opening.

Yet the Tories have missed a brilliant opportunity to show that they want to purge DFID’s wasteful expenditure by deciding to keep the publication. What they plan to do, apparently after pressure from the Treasury, is to stop sending it overseas. This change will cut £186,000 of distribution costs and £18,000 in printing costs.

That might seem welcome, but it still leaves around £200,000 of taxpayers’ money squandered on an unnecessary venture. A DFID spokesman told me that the department is “urgently reviewing” other ways to make savings in the magazine’s production, but the department still wants its 31,000 British readers to receive the publication.

Now I can see why DFID likes having a printed magazine – it looks good on coffee tables and makes DFID’s aid bureaucrats feel important. But if the department wants to communicate effectively with the development community – which accounts for 72 per cent of the magazine’s readers – there’s something it should know: many of the magazine’s target readers are rarely back at base to read their post, and if they are, find themselves inundated with reading material.

Let’s face it: effective aid workers spend large amounts of the year away from their offices in impoverished communities abroad. A printed publication is a singularly bad way of communicating with them and the DFID website would do a perfectly good job of communicating pertinent information without it.

There is no point to this vanity magazine, which does nothing to reduce poverty. The Tories should look again and scrap it.

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