Aid agencies assert 'critical distance' from Government

Two of the UK's largest aid agencies have turned down an offer to work closely with the Government on the UN's Millennium Development Goals because they fear it will threaten their independence.

Earlier this year, Gordon Brown asked several charities from the British Overseas Aid Group to synchronise their campaigning with the Government.

Christian Aid and ActionAid told Third Sector they were asked to promote the Government's Call to Action initiative, which encourages businesses, NGOs and heads of state to support the goals, in advance of the UN Summit on the Millennium Development Goals in New York in September.

But both charities said that, although they agreed with the aims of the campaign, they would not take part. Cafod and Oxfam, which are also members of the British Overseas Aid Group, denied they had been approached.

An internal Department for International Development document from February this year lists topics on which DfID wanted charities to campaign. The document suggests that Oxfam and ActionAid could "focus on agriculture and rural access", and that Oxfam, ActionAid, Save the Children and World Vision should promote the Global Campaign for Education.

A spokeswoman for ActionAid said: "As aid agencies, you have to keep a critical distance. It was just asking us to take a step too far."

According to ActionAid, the Government was looking to create a "big moment" similar to the Make Poverty History campaign of 2005, though there was no formal request to adopt common branding.

Eliot Whittington, the senior UK political adviser for Christian Aid, said: "The Government was talking about how to mobilise all sections of the community.

"It wanted us to get involved in that movement. It was keen that our campaigning this year reflected its focus on the goals."

A DfID spokesman said that meetings with British Overseas Aid Group charities were private. "But we don't recognise this as an accurate description of what happened," he added.

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