Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO) continues its work on transparency

Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO) continues its work on transparency

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has continued to update its published data to the International Initiative for Aid Transparency (IATI) standard with the most recent dataset released on 21 June. Using the newly developed tool IATI Canary to check the data’s compliance to the standard, none of the data is broken and the dataset doesn’t contain any validation issues.  

The publicly available data was published on the UK Government’s website and it gives a top-level overview of the financial disbursements for the Prosperity Fund and the CSSF.  Both of the funds are managed by the FCO and are part of the UK’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) spending. The FCO started to publish information about the two funds to IATI in 2018, in response to previous criticisms of the funds.  

Why does this matter? 

An increasing amount of the UK’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) is being spent by UK government departments other than the purpose-built Department for International Development (DFID) which was created in 1997 by the Blair government. In the National Audit Office’s (NAO) latest report, the figures show a steady decline in the amount of ODA that DFID has direct implementation and oversight of, with the department spending 89% of ODA in 2013 and only 72% four years later in 2017.  

This poses a problem for public oversight of the ODA budget and accountability to the UK tax payer because DFID has previously been rated in the Aid Transparency Index as ‘very good’ for its commitment to transparency, whilst other government departments such as the FCO have been rated ‘poor’. Additionally, the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) reviewed the Prosperity Fund in 2017, finding that ‘despite the UK government’s public commitment to promoting transparency in international aid, the Prosperity Fund has not operated so far in a fully transparent manner’.  

A similar review of the CSSF from 2018 gave the fund an amber/red rating and noted that ‘the lack of transparency inhibits learning,’ with examples of projects in Colombia ‘departing significantly from the good practice principles of inclusivity, participation and transparency’.  

The lack of transparency and fragmentation of the ODA budget to multiple departments also poses a challenge for unified progress towards and reporting against the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The task of compiling the UK’s first ever Voluntary National Review for presentation at the UN High Level Political Forum was delegated to DFID, despite its control over only 72% of the ODA budget.  

Welcome developments 

The Prosperity Fund’s annual review for the year 2017/18 reaffirmed that it was working closely with IATI and DFID on transparency and that the ‘fund is committed to helping departments achieve a rating of good from IATI’, welcome responses to the previous criticisms. A follow up paper written by ICAI in 2018 noted that ‘transparency on spending and results is slowly improving’ and welcomed the first ever annual report that was published. ICAI’s subsequent recommendations to publish the Prosperity Fund’s data to DFID’s data visualisation portal DevTracker were also taken forward (see the Prosperity Fund overview and examples of programmes for the CSSF).  

Further reassurances about transparency were made by the head of the CSSF in April this year, with the Director of the Joint Funds Unit Joëlle Jenny noting the difficult compromise between default transparency and disclosing sensitive information in fragile and conflict affected areas. 

What next? 

Publish What You Fund is in the process of compiling data on the UK Government’s Aid Strategy to calculate the upcoming Aid Transparency Index for 2020. It will be interesting to see what the findings are and if the UK Government meets its pledge to achieve a score of ‘good’ in 2020 based on data published to IATI. 

 

For more information about improving organisational transparency and publishing to IATI please visit our new resource page on the website. For more information about recent transparency developments and new tools, read our recent news article published on 20th May