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Chamber and committees

Question reference: S5W-35666

  • Asked by: Alasdair Allan, MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Scottish National Party
  • Date lodged: 2 March 2021
  • Current status: Initiated by the Scottish Government. Answered by Jenny Gilruth on 3 March 2021


To ask the Scottish Government what progress it has made in relation to its Coronavirus (COVID-19) review of its international development programme, announced on 1 September 2020.


I indicated to Parliament last year that I would return in early 2021 to make a statement providing an update on the results of the Scottish Government’s review of its approach to international development in light of COVID-19. I appreciate, however, that there is tremendous pressure on the Parliamentary timetable at the moment due to COVID-19. I will therefore provide an update on that review through this GIQ.

I will also take the opportunity to update Parliament on three other international development reviews that had previously been commissioned: our Small Grants Programme, and the Review of Fair Trade in Scotland, both of which are currently funded under our International Development Fund (“IDF”); and our separate Humanitarian Emergency Fund (“HEF”). Although separate reviews, we will take forward our response to their findings in parallel with decisions from our COVID-19 review, to ensure a holistic approach to the evolution of our whole international development programme.

COVID-19 Review of Approach to International Development

The background and scope of the Scottish Government COVID-19 Review are set out on our International Development Review webpages: International development: Coronavirus (COVID-19): review of international development programme - ( . A copy of my answer today will also be published there, along with our Summary Report on the Review of the Scottish Government’s International Development Programme in Light of COVID-19 ( ), which sets out the key changes that will result from our review: the changes will be made to our IDF programme; and the alignment with the new Principles resulting from this review will apply not only to IDF funded work, but more broadly across wider Scottish Government international development work.

The COVID-19 pandemic necessitated a re-fresh of the Scottish Government’s approach to international development. Coupled with that, the demand for change by the Black Lives Matter movement has raised serious questions to which all Governments should consider their response. This refresh of the Scottish Government’s international development offer is to ensure that our programme is future-proofed against an ever-changing global outlook.

Our International Development programme will continue to evolve in line with the review. Our new Principles – co-developed with input from civil society and academics in our partner countries and Scotland – will lie at the heart of how Scotland seeks to set an example in addressing the issue of systematic racism and inequality - sometimes referred to as ‘white gaze’ - in international development. As part of this, discussions have focussed on how to support a shift in power to partner countries, towards increased localisation of development. (Read the Principles here: ).

New Principles from the COVID-19 Review

The new Principles were shaped during the review process to include views of external stakeholders, and I was grateful to civil society in particular, in Scotland and our partner countries, for engaging so constructively with this process. Scottish Government Ministers, across a range of portfolios, equally considered the Principles in line with our commitment to ensure policy coherence. The final version of the Principles has benefitted from that co-creation process.

Responding to views expressed in my discussion with Malawian civil society, we have included a specific Principle on transparency and accountability – for the Scottish Government to hold itself accountable in adhering to our new Principles, as well as in delivering our Programme. Supporting that, we will also build on and strengthen our monitoring and evaluation framework, as well as keeping under review how we report on our spend and work in our partner countries.

I am clear that this COVID-19 review of our approach to international development is a start, rather than an end point, to a change process. Our Programme will therefore progressively align with the new Principles over the coming months and years, as we work to future-proof Programme in relation to COVID-19. We will also continue to provide support to strengthening key areas underpinning our Programme, such as safeguarding. This continuing alignment and adjustment of our Programme will take place incrementally as an ongoing process of improvement and change, and will include a focus on the balance of spend between Scotland and our partner countries, and amongst our partner countries. I expect all organisations wishing to receive funding from the Scottish Government under the IDF or our separate HEF will clearly align with, and be held accountable to, the Principles.

Key programmatic changes from the COVID-19 Review

I want our International Development Programme to help our partner countries to build back fairer and stronger. To that end, key Review decisions that will apply in relation to the IDF include:

  • further focusing our offer in Rwanda and Zambia in line with thematic priorities, whilst maintaining our existing agreed themes in Malawi;
  • refreshing our funding criteria;
  • a new distinct equalities programme; and
  • establishing a new Global South Programme Panel on International Development.

The decisions on these important changes to our Programme have been informed by the discussions, held throughout the review period, with representatives of partner country governments, civil society, academics, and international organisations such as UN Women in Malawi.

Thematic priorities – Malawi, Rwanda and Zambia

In determining the thematic priorities of our programmes in partner countries it was important, consistent with our Principles, to listen to our partner countries. It was clear from those discussions that the overarching objective for our refocused Programme must be to support our partner countries to build back fairer and stronger’ after the Pandemic ends, by focusing our contribution on: economic recovery; building institutional resilience; reducing inequalities, and applying our new Principles to our programme.

In order to deliver that objective, and following those discussions with our partner countries on thematic priorities, I can confirm that our IDF country programmes will be reshaped as follows in the short to medium term:

  • Rwanda and Zambia: we will refocus our offer to fit each country’s stated post-COVID-19 priorities for partnership with Scotland. In Rwanda, our focus will be on: education; health (in particular palliative care); and trade and investment. In Zambia, our partnership will focus on: health (including in the short term COVID-19 testing capacity and hospital equipment); water and sanitation, particularly in unplanned settlements; and renewable energy; and
  • Malawi: the stated preference of both the Malawian Government and of Malawi civil society was to hold to the existing six thematic strands under the Global Goals Partnership Agreement 2018 signed between our two Governments. Those six strands for cooperation will therefore remain unchanged (health; education; civic governance; sustainable economic development; renewable energy; and water and climate).

With those thematic areas selected for prioritisation for the next few years by our partner countries, we will refocus our IDF funding streams to support building back fairer and stronger through economic recovery and building institutional resilience:

  • our existing funding stream 1 will now be titled “Sustainable Recovery”, with a mix of competitive and non-competitive funding;
  • our second funding stream will now be called “Institutional Resilience”. It will continue to be awarded on a non-competitive basis and seek to leverage our contributions through collaborative, match-funded opportunities with partners and other donors. Within this funding stream, we will seek to establish one or two long-term institutional partnerships in Malawi, Rwanda and Zambia where power is more localised and longer term investment will help to sustain positive change.

Refreshing our Funding Criteria

As an example of a long-term institutional partnership, the College of Medicine in Malawi has been a key feature of our Programme since 2005, choosing partners in Scotland with which to collaborate on a range of successful initiatives. Our investment has supported their flexibility to build on those partnerships and secure ad hoc additional investment according to their needs. The Government of Malawi has asked that the College of Medicine continue to be prioritised within our Malawi Programme. In response, we will now adjust the College of Medicine’s place in our programme, assuring our support by placing it in our non-competitive “Institutional Resilience” funding stream.

We will also look to identify, through discussion and agreement, suitable institutions in Zambia and Rwanda interested in building similar long-term, peer-peer partnerships. This too will support our aim to future-proof our programme in response to both COVID-19 through greater investment in infrastructure and greater use of technology for longer-term partners.

Through this change, we aim progressively to shift the balance of power - and control over spending - more to our partner countries. That includes adjusting our IDF funding criteria to enable more partner country organisations to be the lead partner in applying to the Scottish Government for funding. Currently the only global south organisation which we fund directly is the Malawi Scotland Partnership in Lilongwe. From the views expressed in the review roundtables in our partner countries it is clear that this refresh of our current competitive funding round criteria, with its requirement for a Scottish lead partner, is overdue.

Finally, on partner country themes, Health is the only thematic area prioritised in common, by all three of our African partner countries. The pandemic itself, and the discussions in our review process, have highlighted that monetary contributions on their own are insufficient and that international cooperation and solidarity must be seen as key components to tackling global challenges. Peer-peer working, with exchanges of knowledge and expertise for mutual learning, is particularly relevant in health, where we want to support people contributing their time and skills for the benefit of our partner countries and to add value, but also for the learning they can bring back to Scotland. We will therefore continue to invest in global health initiatives, through our IDF and also through support for the ongoing delivery of the NHS Scotland Global Citizenship Programme in partnership with the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, and with NHS Scotland.

New Cross-cutting Equalities Programme

Adding to the two funding streams “Sustainable Recovery” and “Institutional Resilience”, we will introduce a new cross-cutting Equalities Programme across all four of our partner countries, with a particular focus on supporting the promotion of equality and empowerment of women and girls. This key outcome from the review recognises the finding of UN Women that COVID-19 is “ deepening pre-existing inequalities, exposing vulnerabilities in social, political and economic systems which are in turn amplifying the impacts of the pandemic. Across every sphere, from health to the economy, security to social protection, the impacts of COVID-19 are exacerbated for women and girls simply by virtue of their sex ”.

Therefore, we to fund other new initiatives that will benefit our partner countries, within a new Equalities Funding Stream, to promote equality for, and the rights of, women and girls. The existing Police Scotland partnerships with the Malawian and Zambian Police Forces which we support are exemplars of peer-peer working on equalities issues. These will continue, now sitting within our new cross-countries Equalities Programme. Our Scholarships scheme in Pakistan, our fourth partner country, will also sit within this Equalities Programme.

In 2016, we introduced a new funding stream for Investment. This has also been considered under the Review. I have decided that we should continue to support commercial investment from our IDF. This takes into account the declared priority of our partner countries to move away from aid towards self-sustaining economies supported by trade and investment. We will, however, explore the feasibility of targeting our investment funding to support women within the new Equalities Programme.

Finally, on the new Equalities Programme, we will refocus the budget currently allocated under the IDF to our existing Small Grants pilot programme towards promoting equality of women and girls and supporting their rights, including seeking to provide more funding directly in-country to smaller local civil society organisations. This is expanded on further below.

In all of our work on the priority thematic areas and intersectional equality issues, we want to ensure collaborative working, not only across the Scottish Government, the wider public sector and civil society in Scotland, but also with more international organisations. The Scottish Government is a strong supporter of multilateralism, believing that by working with partners on shared interests in multilateral fora we can address our common challenges. Engaging with international institutions can also help us to better support national outcomes in our partner countries – our recent
‎ £2 million grant to UNICEF for our three African partner countries ensured we could support all three partner country Governments to implement their COVID-19 national response plans and preparedness for COVID-19 vaccines. We will therefore consider how we might work through more international bodies in future, whether on health or equality for women and girls to maximise the impact of our development programme.

Global South Programme Panel

I want to further develop key international connections to strengthen the Programme and its impact in our partner countries. In line with the commitment in our Principles to inclusivity and diversity, and to shifting power in our international development work to our partner countries, I want to ensure the Scottish Government continues to hear from experts such as the Africa-based academics I met during the review. I therefore intend, as a key outcome of this review, to establish a Scottish Government Global South Programme Panel on International Development.

This new group will include, for example, global south academics, thematic experts from our partner countries, and also representatives of our partner country diaspora in Scotland. The Panel will enable us to access a wider and more diverse range of voices and experience, and lend expertise to our Programme. I will chair the Panel as Minister for International Development, ensuring that global south voices continue to be heard beyond this Review, at ministerial level, to ensure ongoing dialogue and to drive and support further positive change.

The role of the international development sector and thematic experts in Scotland also remains fundamental and I want to give my ongoing commitment to discussion and dialogue with them in taking forward our international development programme. I and my officials will continue to meet regularly with the wider sector in Scotland, including, for example, through the quarterly meetings that Scotland’s International Development Alliance hosts. I will also look for other opportunities to engage the sector in Scotland as part of our ongoing dialogue as our Programme aligns with the new Principles and as international development theory and practice itself evolves. I look forward to discussing the outcome of the Review with representatives of the sector within the next week.

Policy Coherence for Sustainable Development following the COVID-19 Review

Finally, the sector in Scotland continues to stress the importance of Policy Coherence for Sustainable Development (PCSD) and I am pleased to restate the Scottish Government’s commitment to this. Our work on PCSD remains a vital component as we strive to build back fairer and stronger from COVID-19, considering not only our needs but those of others overseas. We will continue to collaborate with our civil society partners on policy coherence, as part of our ongoing discussions on best global practices in international development.

Due to COVID-19, the formal work of the Ministerial Working Group on PCSD which was announced in 2019 has been delayed. However, our commitment to this approach across the Scottish Government remains and is evident in the way in which we are currently taking forward work and collaborating in areas like climate change, health and education. On education, for example, as part of the ongoing and progressive work stemming from this review, discussions will continue with the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills on areas of mutual interest such as global citizenship education and the Development Education Centres. In addition to the existing areas of collaboration, we are identifying other policy areas on which we can fruitfully collaborate for positive development outcomes. For example, PCSD was explicitly part of the development of the Scottish Government’s new Trade Vision, published on 26 January 2021, which emphasises the principle of “do no harm” when developing Scotland’s international trade and investment links. I will convene the Ministerial Working Group before the end of this Parliamentary term.

COVID-19 and International Solidarity

I hope that my detailed answer today on our COVID-19 Review will provide reassurance that the wellbeing of our partner countries and their citizens remains paramount to the Scottish Government, and that the changes resulting from this review seek to support that aim.

Internationalism, and international solidarity, has never been more important through this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, whether that is in relation to the immediate needs and equitable access to vaccines, or in the medium to longer term as we build back fairer and stronger from COVID-19. Scotland has a role to play in contributing internationally, both by funding and by sharing our technical expertise and learning from others in return.

Looking ahead into 2021, UN Secretary General Guterres has called for international solidarity in relation to COVID-19 responses, “Now is the time for unity and for the international community to work together in solidarity to stop COVID-19 and its shattering consequences”. On behalf of the Scottish Government, I endorse that call by the UN Secretary General.

Independent Reviews of the Small Grants, Fair Trade in Scotland, and the HEF

Taking each of the three separate and independent reviews on our Small Grants Programme, of Fair Trade in Scotland and the HEF in turn:

Independent Review of our Small Grants Programme

I am pleased to provide an update on our response to the Report of the independent review of the Scottish Government international development Small Grants Programme, which was established as a pilot programme in 2013.

The independent report of the review of the Small Grants Programme, which we published on our Scottish Government webpages ( Read the review report by the independent consultants ), set out a number of findings and concluded with four Options for the future of the Programme. Having carefully considered the Report’s findings and Options for the future, I have, as indicated above, decided to refocus the budget currently allocated under the IDF to our Small Grants pilot programme towards promoting equality of women and girls, including seeking to provide more funding directly in-country to smaller local civil society organisations.

Whilst the Report found that the Programme had exhibited some elements of good practice, for example “in the level of support which it offers to build the capacity applicants and award-holders”, it also identified a range of issues in relation to both the design and achievement of its original purpose, which have been key in deciding whether it should continue in its present form beyond its pilot stage:

  • in terms of the stated purpose of the Programme ‘to build capacity and upscale small organisations and enable them to bid for funds from the IDF and other funders,’ the Report found that “ While there is evidence that small organisations have developed their capacity through the Programme, the total number of organisations that have achieved this particular indicator is small ”;
  • the Report also found that the multi-objective design of the Programme, both to support the sector in Scotland and some of the world's most vulnerable communities in-country, affected the capacity of the Programme to deliver on some of the original aspirations to strengthen local community capacity / empower local community groups to influence decision makers; and
  • there was limited data to assess the extent to which the Programme has achieved those specific objectives, impacted in part by the multi-objective design.

Our Small Grants Programme has also been impacted by COVID-19, with many small grants projects disrupted. So in announcing this decision, I want to provide clear reassurance to organisations which currently have live Small Grants funded under our IDF. This includes those projects in the 2019-22 cohort, which will continue until March 2022, as well as those in the 2018-21 cohort which have been granted extensions to summer 2021 due to the impact of COVID-19 on delivery. These projects within the Small Grants Programme will continue up until 2022, still managed by Corra on behalf of the Scottish Government. Today’s announcement simply means we will not extend the pilot Programme in its current form by opening any new funding rounds.

Secondly, I can confirm that the proportion of the International Development Fund normally allocated to the Small Grants Programme will be absorbed back into the IDF, to fund other new initiatives that will benefit our partner countries. As an example, following the COVID-19 review of our approach to international development, within a new Equalities Programme we will increasingly fund more initiatives to advance the equality of women and girls and support their rights, where we will look to fund smaller local civil society organisations directly in-country. As an example of this, we will immediately extend additional funding to our collaboration with Comic Relief on our joint Levelling the Field II Programme, following their success in attracting large numbers of high quality applications by locally led organisations in our partner countries for new funding from April 2021. The focus of the funding in Levelling the Field II (2021-24) is using Sport for Change approaches to fund CSOs direct in-country to: ensure women and girls and safe, equal and respected; and promote women and girls’ decision-making power and inclusion.

This will respond to the localisation agenda, as highlighted in Option 2 of the Small Grants Review Report: “ to address the inherent power imbalance in funding North organisations to deliver activities in the South” , by “ ceasing funding for smaller Scottish iNGOs to deliver activities in partner countries ” and instead “ developing a Programme which invest directly in small organisations in partner countries ”. We are also interested in exploring Option 4 of the Small Grants Review, namely to further “ invest in systems change inpartner countries...aimed at strengthening the capacity of organisations in partner countries through partnership/exchange with Scottish institutions”. This holistic approach to both the Small Grants Review and our review of our approach to our wider international development programme in light of COVID-19 will support the evolution of our programme at this time.

Independent Reviews of the HEF and of Fair Trade in Scotland

As an update to my response to question S5O-04282, taken in Chamber on‎ 18 March 2020 on the HEF Review: in October 2020, having again reviewed the situation, we further extended the current Panel membership until 30 June 2021. As with the first extension, the main objective was to maintain the stability of the HEF panel in these unprecedented circumstances by utilising the established networks and relationships to continue to support activations during 2020-21.

Since April 2020, we have continued to support humanitarian activations through our HEF: the DEC Appeal for an emergency response to the COVID-19 crisis in July 2020, to support displaced communities and refugees in seven key countries; and, through the HEF Panel, in relation to the explosion in Beirut, to Niger to help communities affected by devastating floods, and just last week in response to the crisis caused by the brutal conflict in Ethiopia's Tigray region.

I have been clear that we will take forward implementation of the recommendations from the 2019 HEF review once our separate COVID-19 international development review was complete. That includes my commitment to appoint a new HEF Panel. We will implement the HEF review recommendations in conjunction with applying the results of our more recent international development COVID-19 review, including the new Principles we co-developed under that Review, to inform the renewal of the HEF Panel. Post-Covid, the sector in Scotland itself may have evolved, and we will take any such changes into account in the new appointments process.

Finally, for completeness on the range of independent reviews commissioned, in my answer to question S5W-33059 on 19 November 2020, I set out the progress made by the Scottish Government in implementing the recommendations of the review of fair trade in Scotland (published 24 February 2020). In terms of the further impact of our COVID-19 review, the ongoing implementation of the Fair Trade review will in common with all other areas of our Programme funded under the IDF, continue to align with our new Principles and review outcomes, and otherwise respond as international development theory and practice itself evolves.

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