What £12bn might actually buy UK in Foreign “aid”.

We’ve heard a few times recently about Foreign Aid, and the UK’s sizeable budget underspend of £12bn. So much aid, we can’t even spend it. The news cycle may have moved on, but I gave it a bit of thought. I know what i’d spend it on if I were PM: Land. Here’s how and why.

It’s no secret that Foreign Aid isn’t a selfless act. Often, it’s used to unlock trade deals, create labour markets, garner alliance, or stabilise a place we’d like to get miners into. Whilst I’m sure much of the aid delegated to charities does not fit that somewhat crass and obtuse definition, a lot of the locked budget, some 0.7% if GDP guaranteed, will be used almost as a marketing budget for the UK. Rightly so, I think. In my view, it’s being used poorly if £12bn meanders its way into the World Bank’s client accounts.

There’s one thing the UK’s now defunct empire had in its favour. It did have a positive effect on the land — in infrastructure and development terms. It created outposts for export (yes, yes, I know the terms were brutal, let’s presume times have changed, shall we?). It put the UK on the ground, with permanent representatives (no, i’m not talking about making more colonies.) Put in modern context, there’s virtue in these outcomes.

Land is also something that rarely sees additional stock added to Mother Nature’s inventory. We can’t exactly wait, keep our eyes peeled for a mid-Pacific eruption, rock up with a flag from one of our six Royal Navy ships, and proclaim Britain has expanded! No. Geology is a patient science.

We can buy land. We can pick a basket of countries, negotiate directly with their government on buying the freehold to vast estates. Where the regime risk, democratic footprint and potential of that state is suitable, we invest.

Why, you may ask?

Firstly, i’m told a house is the best investment I can make. I believe land is the best investment a small island can make. But it’s what we do with the land that matters.

Since the obligation to be generous is also a matter of civilised morals, we must continue to support aid. Must we keep running to stand still? It seems to me that aid should be a catalyst, not a plaster.

It’s no secret that we have a need to export more. We also have a lot of people in the UK who are perhaps ready and able to travel and adventure. Dare I say it, without being basketed incorrectly, we also have the need to managed the inflow of migration. If these various territories were small pockets of Britain — with an enlarged embassy on-site (and military guard) within their confines, they may represent a buffer for the vast flows of economic and asylum seeking migrants. Investing in infrastructure and pockets of land in key aid-seeking nations seems like a fantastic way through which to offer hope, opportunity and tangible means to actually help.

I’m thinking of the opportunity to [re]building regions, and suburbs and agricultural hubs, in as many places as we can afford and where the risk is manageable. Schools, medical centres, English cultural centres, malls for British products — all could be housed within these land patches. Along with the required infrastructure for a developed economy, or a suitable stepping stone that fits the local culture.

British institutions are already helping so-called developing states behind the scenes. Lending expertise on bureaucracy and statecraft as a form of “soft aid”. This approach is wholly congruent with that, its aid by state investment. I’m quite sure Keynes would have approved, i’m also quite sure it washes with the UK taxpayer on the scale of value for money.

The intention would and should then be, thereby, to leasehold the land once the micro-system is sustainable and release its subsequent creations to the private market. That creates both a lump sum revenue “return on aid” and also an ongoing income which can be pumped back into the goodwill needs of the aid state. That money could also be delegated to NGOs — satisfying the need to avoid a conflict of interest. Were natives to the aid-recipient nation to be given primacy on such asset disposals, it would serve to act as generosity and a macroeconomic stimulant.

I am not a qualified development economist, nor skilled in the arts of charity — but this does seem to me a far better strategy than donation alone. As a British taxpayer I want credible value to come from aid. I want the recipient to get a stride forward in their ambition. I don’t want to hear of money sitting in a bank account, doing nothing, just waiting for the next disaster to strike.

What about you?

#aid #fdi #UKPlc.

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