My recent article in The Telegraph:
Day after day, we are witnessing more stabbings on our streets and more young lives tragically cut short. In such desperate circumstances, it's time for a rapid reassessment of our priorities and how we spend taxpayers' money.
There's no magic formula, but the Conservative Party I joined understood the need to trust the professionals. That means listening to the police when they tell us that with emergency funding they would be able to send a surge of officers into the hardest-hit areas, finally starting to stem the tide and bring the knife crime currently blighting our nation under control.
There is an obvious place where the money for this could be found. In 2017, the Government spent more on overseas aid than it did on the police in England and Wales. A full £14.1 billion was handed to other countries, while the entire Home Office budget came to just £13.1 billion. As far as I am concerned, this is a scandal.
Most people do not think we have enough police officers, and the figures bear this out. There are 212 officers per 100,000 inhabitants in England and Wales, while Scotland has 322. By contrast, Spain has 361, Italy has 453, Greece has 492 and Cyprus has 573.
Some people and businesses have even begun to employ private security firms to compensate for the lack of police on the beat. When we cannot find enough extra money for policing, yet we are giving huge sums to other countries in aid, it is time to start a serious conversation. We have legislated to spend 0.7 per cent of our national income to assist people in developing countries, irrespective of actual need, project outcomes and value for money. More importantly, this is spent regardless of priorities at home.
We have spent almost £89 billion on overseas aid since 2010, with the foreign aid budget rocketing by 66 per cent in just seven years, from £8.5 billion to more than £14 billion, at the same time domestic budgets have faced cuts. Just imagine if even some of those billions had been put into policing instead. How many more crimes could have been solved or prevented? How many people could have been saved from becoming victims? And, as long as GDP increases, the foreign aid bill will go on rising.
We are a generous country and we should continue to help, but other countries are not paying out as we are. In some years, we have spent more than 0.7 per cent because, ridiculously, there are strict rules on what can officially count as aid. When Hurricane Irma struck in 2017, for example, we could not use our aid budget to help the British Overseas Territories. Anguilla, Turks and Caicos and the British Virgin Islands were considered too wealthy to qualify for assistance.
I see foreign aid as being about disaster relief first and foremost. If someone is suffering then we have a moral duty to help them. And in Britain we have a proud track record of helping those who face such situations. But when it comes to general aid spending, we now have an annual rush to spend as much as possible to hit an arbitrary target.
I doubt that many of us would set aside 0.7 per cent of our income to give to something without first knowing whether it was needed or what it was going to be spent on. I suspect we would also be keen to know it was going to do some good and that we definitely did not need it ourselves. Yet this is the opposite of what seems to be happening with overseas aid.
What should we do? Well, foreign aid needs to be looked at in light of growing needs in this country. Not being responsible with taxpayers' money goes against all my Conservative instincts.
We should immediately end the arbitrary 0.7 per cent target, dramatically cut spending on overseas aid, and abolish the Department for International Development, transferring its functions to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. That way we can provide humanitarian assistance when needed and spend less on bureaucracy. And cuts to the aid budget could provide a much-needed injection of cash into policing.
The Act compelling us to spend 0.7 per cent of our national income on overseas aid could be repealed by another Act of Parliament. Alternatively, the Government could just decide not to spend the money. The current legislation says that if the Government does not meet the target, it simply needs to make a statement to the House of Commons.
I appreciate that those in favour of a blank-cheque approach to aid will do their best to force ministers to stick to the 0.7 per cent target but, as far as I am concerned, this would be gesture politics at its worst.
It has become impossible to justify all this expenditure abroad when our streets are just not as safe as they could or should be.