Former DfID political adviser on UK aid direction and his new role at Plan

Simon Bishop, newly appointed director of policy and programs at Plan International U.K. Photo by: Plan UK

Before our interview, Simon Bishop — recently appointed director of policy and programs at Plan International U.K. — insists that the topic of his previous employer is off-limits.

As a special political adviser to the United Kingdom’s former Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening, Bishop spent two and a half years providing political, policy and media advice that shaped the direction of the government’s development strategy.

Although some of the controversial policies announced by the Department for International Development since Greening and Bishop left in July last year may have been gestating while he was in the post, Bishop refuses to comment on them. “Mischievous journalists can turn that into nice headlines,” he told Devex. “I’ve got to be careful.”

Bishop left the government not long after the U.K.’s new prime minister, Theresa May, took over, and Greening moved to the Department for Education as part of a ministerial reshuffle. Bishop followed, at first — but after only a week, he changed his mind.

“I needed to follow my passion for international development,” he said. His DfID role was his first in government, after 10 years working for major development players including the United Nations Foundation. His insider knowledge made him an asset among development organizations. But Bishop insists it’s his past experience and knowledge that’s most valuable — he can’t call up DfID and demand favours, he said.

Bishop was appointed to his new role at Plan at the end of last year and spoke to Devex four months into the job from his office at the charity’s London headquarters. He spoke without referring to notes — despite it being his first media interview — and it was clear from the beginning that he was keen to demonstrate his passion for Plan International U.K.’s campaigns.

But would he say anything about DfID?

Aid & trade, payment by results

What he did say chimed with some of the department’s current policies. One area of concern for some development professionals has been DfID’s increasing emphasis on “payment by results,” whereby organizations receive some or all of the agreed funding only after demonstrating that results have been met. Bishop said this is “one funding instrument of many,” and a way the sector can drive better value for money. Plan International U.K. recently completed a three-year water and sanitation programme in Bangladesh and Pakistan worth 25 million pounds ($30.9 million) in DfID investment — but only if it delivers results.

“We’re waiting on an independent survey to find out exactly what the final figure is, but we’re confident…

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