TWO reports published on Thursday of last week criticise the way in which Britain’s £14 billion foreign-aid budget is being spent.
One, from the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI), says that recent changes which have allocated almost one third of the aid budget to government ministries outside the Department for International Development (DfID) has led to money increasingly being spent on middle-income countries. The spend has moved away from poverty reduction and is now more about security, climate change, or economic goals.
The second report, from the Government’s spending watchdog the National Audit Office (NAO), found that a lack of transparency in other government departments and oversight of their spending, mean that the Government cannot be certain that the money is being used effectively.
In 2013, just ten per cent of overseas aid was allocated to other departments, including the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Foreign Office, and the Home Office. By 2017, that had risen to 28 per cent: from £1.29 billion to £3.96 billion.
The ICAI report, The Current State of UK Aid: A synthesis of ICAI findings from 2015 to 2019, states that these departments do not embrace DfID’s principle of “Leave no one behind”, and the Government is now using the aid programme to pursue British interests by positioning itself as an investment and trade partner for developing countries.
The author of the report, ICAI commissioner Richard Gledhill, said that it had “shone a light on weaknesses and failures, and some recurring concerns”. In particular, a significant increase in spending in departments and funds other than DfID has often come before the systems, processes, and capabilities necessary to ensure that the impact and value for money of this spend had been put in place.
The National Audit report, The Effectiveness of Official Development Assistance Expenditure, found that, in 2017, more than half the DfID budget — 58 per cent — was spent in the least-developed countries; 28 per cent went to lower-middle-income countries; and 14 per cent went to upper-middle-income countries. While the DfID is transparent in its own spending, other departments do not publish details about what programmes they spend money on.
The NAO auditor general, Gareth Davies, said: “The Government does not know whether giving responsibility for spending [on foreign aid] to a larger number of departments has had the impact it intended. And its progress in improving the transparency of spending has been slow.
“While there is good evidence that many aid programmes are securing an impact individually, government does not know whether all parts of [foreign aid], taken together, are securing value for money.”