Preoccupations over loss of funding and partnership possibilities dominate our sector’s outlook on Brexit, but are there any opportunities to be seized amongst the perceived doom and gloom?
Scotland has always been outward facing and disproportionately visible on the international stage. The international development sector in the UK has therefore consistently had a small, but vocal, Scottish contingent. With the Department for International Development’s (DFID’s) East Kilbride office established in the 1980s and the Scottish government developing its own international development policy since 2005, it is no surprise that NGOs, both large and small, have seen Scotland as a useful base for their humanitarian efforts.
Scotland’s development sector is diverse in terms of the scope, scale and focus of the numerous internationally-focused charities based here. Scotland’s International Development Alliance, the membership body for international development in Scotland, has over 100 NGO members. These organisations range from the largest ‘household name’ international NGOs to small, locally-based charities little known to the general public.
On the larger end of the scale, international NGOs, such as Oxfam and Christian Aid, have for a long time deemed it strategically useful to have permanent teams based here, in addition to their teams in England. For organisations like these, Brexit and its potential impact are a growing challenge, which may or may not also bring opportunities. EU funding streams are important to their impact in developing countries across the world – recent research by BOND (the UK international development network) shows that work in up to 61 countries could be excluded from EU funding through UK NGOs. For smaller, solely Scottish organisations, the potential funding impact goes from zero to huge depending on the countries they work in and the partnerships they currently have with other organisations.
The simple fact is that, at this point, large amounts of funding for UK based NGOs are uncertain post Brexit. In 2016, the financial impact of losing all EU funding to UK civil society would have been up to €357 million according to research commissioned by BOND earlier this year. For NGOs engaged in humanitarian and emergency response, lost funding could equate, at its largest, to €211 million. The exact figure affecting Scottish organisations is unclear, but the sum would be significant.
Uncertainty and Brexit seem synonymous. Questions around what the implications of exiting the EU will mean for the 10% of UK humanitarian and development assistance that currently goes through EU-managed funding mechanisms are on everyone’s minds (£1.17 billion out of total UK ODA of £11.7 billion in 2014). How will this large proportion of ODA be repatriated and to what department? We all hope, of course, that this funding will be maintained and that it will continue to be allocated for humanitarian relief and poverty eradication. However, no promises have been made and the funding may be used in other ways and focus on other areas (even outside of development and DFID).
Beyond funding, there are other less obvious impacts that many Scottish NGOs are already starting to see as a result of the changing dynamic between ourselves and the rest of the EU. Amongst these impacts is an apparent loss of trust and a resulting ‘cooling’ of what were once close relationships with European partners, something that is both understandable on the one hand, and saddening on the other, for a sector so deeply committed to international cooperation. Anecdotal evidence from different organisations who depend on European partners and cooperation reiterate this apprehension time and time again.
Although for many this is just a ‘feeling’, if there is even some truth to it, it could result in making new relationships and partnerships more difficult with European partners. For some organisations like Mellow Parenting, a Glasgow-based charity that develop and implement evidenced based parenting programmes in different countries, potential collaboration opportunities already seem at risk.
For volunteering organisations like the International Voluntary Service (IVS) based in Edinburgh, the UK’s exit from the EU presents its own set of challenges. Not only is EU funding – through programmes such as Erasmus+ – indispensable, but the very value set upon which the organisation is based has been put into question: the freedom of travel, the breaking down of barriers and the importance of multiculturalism. IVS works within a worldwide network of partner organisations and comments from partners have questioned whether volunteers from overseas can now feel welcome in the UK.
Opportunities arising out of Brexit may seem limited for many in Scotland, but there is undoubtedly scope for organisations to form new partnerships locally, and there is an incentive now more than ever to work together. There are opportunities to re-emphasise Scotland’s outward facing, internationalist values – possibilities to develop the narrative that Scotland strives for a fairer world, at home and abroad.
There are also clear opportunities for the UK as a whole to improve upon the global development outcomes it has worked towards with the EU. For this to happen, the UK government must seek new agreements for continued participation in selected EU development cooperation and humanitarian programmes.
A continued close relationship with the EU makes strategic sense for the UK and Scottish international development sectors, aiming to at least maintain its scope and sphere of influence, and also aiming to ensure UK and EU development policy are as aligned as possible in future.
Importantly, the inevitably protracted reality of developing new international trade deals presents a huge opportunity to impact positively on development outcomes. Replacing the EU’s Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with systems that are simpler, fairer and more universal could help to create jobs, boost economic growth and reduce poverty to a degree not currently possible for many developing countries that trade with the UK under EU rules. The replacement of EPAs with something better may well be unlikely under the current government, but for our sector, it is nonetheless worth aiming for.
Making sure free trade agreements with wealthier countries are proven to be ‘policy coherent’ and do not undermine developing country competitors presents a further opportunity and challenge. To do this, we must ensure that UK trade and investment policies are compatible with international commitments on the environment, climate change, human rights and the Sustainable Development Goals.
Ultimately though, for these opportunities to be seized, the international development sector, in all parts of the UK, needs to be engaged with the Brexit process. Burying our heads in the sand is tempting, but if we do, we will derive nothing from the current circumstances and risk losing even more capacity to build a fairer world.
Scotland’s International Development Alliance
Lewis Ryder-Jones is Policy, Advocacy and Communications Officer for Scotland’s International Development Alliance. Earlier in his career he worked in West Africa, South America and the Middle East, before working in policy for a domestically-focused HIV charity in Scotland.