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What does aid spending achieve, MPs ask

27 September 2019

Public Accounts Committee queries effectiveness


The International Development Secretary, Alok Sharma MP, arrives at Downing Street earlier this month

The International Development Secretary, Alok Sharma MP, arrives at Downing Street earlier this month

MEMBERS of Parliament have raised concerns about how the UK is spending its £14-billion international aid budget, and have questioned whether it is getting value for money and achieving enough.

A cross-party group of MPs on the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) says that the Government needs to do more to ensure that its aid spending is effective. In a new report, The Effectiveness of Official Development Assistance Expenditure, published this week, they raise particular concerns about what will happen to development spending channelled through EU bodies in the event of a no-deal Brexit next month.

Leaving without a deal will create “a significant risk to its value for money”, the report warns.

Ten per cent of the Government’s overseas development assistance budget — which the Government has pledged will always be 0.7 per cent of gross national income — is currently spent through EU institutions. This will need to be transferred quickly if the Government is to continue to meet its pledge.

MPs found that, although ministers were meeting the 0.7-per-cent target, they were “unclear what this considerable amount of aid money achieves in practice”.

More and more of the Official Development Assistance (ODA) fund is now being spent through other government departments, away from the Department for International Development (DfID). MPs are concerned that these departments are not measuring the impact of the money, and are failing to be transparent about how the money is being spent.

Particular concerns are raised in the report about the amount of ODA funding spent by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), and the doubling of a fund for research and development run by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which was agreed without any understanding of how the money would be spent, the report says.

Similar concerns about lack of transparency in the way the money was being spent by other departments were raised by the National Audit Office earlier this year (News, 28 June).

Development agencies have said that they are concerned that funds are being moved away from crucial work to reduce poverty, and spent instead on “promoting British interests”.

The head of public policy at the development agency CAFOD, Graham Gordon, said: “Aid that is spent well saves lives, and this report is crystal clear that, if we are to avoid UK aid being reallocated according to the latest political whim, then future spending needs to be based on solid evidence of what works, and an evaluation of the impact aid is having on the ground.

“Against a context of the aid budget being spent increasingly by departments across Government, we would like to see all aid spending being subjected to the same standards of transparency and effectiveness as DfID spending, to ensure it remains focused on the poorest people and communities, and brings value for money.

“The PAC report outlines that 45 per cent of the aid money the FCO spends goes on ‘frontline diplomacy’ — it needs to be more transparent about what this involves and how it contributes to poverty alleviation. Without this transparency, and without a clear focus on the impact on the lives of the poorest people, there is the danger that the increase in aid spending across the FCO and other departments means we are simply diverting ODA from poverty alleviation to promoting British interests.”

Oxfam’s head of government relations, Jon Date, said: “We share MPs’ concerns — the increasing proportion of the aid budget spent outside of the Department for International Development risks undermining the impact of UK aid in tackling global poverty.

“The primary purpose of British aid is — and should continue to be — to fight poverty.”

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