UK aid: Focus cross-government projects on world’s poorest, urge MPs
Aid delivered under the Prosperity Fund is insufficiently focused on the poorest, according to a new report from the International Development Committee, the Definition and administration of ODA.
The Government has committed to spending increasing amounts of Official Development Assistance (ODA) outside the Department for International Development (DFID) claiming that this will engage other departments’ skills, expertise and networks.
But where DFID is respected worldwide as an accountable deliverer of aid, cross-government funds have been criticised for their lack of transparency, especially given the level of spending involved (£601m of ODA in 2016-17).
The situation is further complicated by the blend of ODA and non-ODA activities covered by the Conflict, Security and Stability Fund (CSSF), where, as a result, large tranches of information are redacted for national security reasons.
The Chair of the Committee, Stephen Twigg MP said:
“The role of cross-government funds has become increasingly prominent but the current arrangements for oversight leave gaps and the opportunity for a lack of coherence. Our Report raises concerns that some activities are being badged as ODA without a clear focus on poverty reduction. This lack of clarity risks undermining faith in UK aid.
“Countries should not be selected to receive ODA via the CSSF funding based on security rationale alone. With a heavy emphasis on promoting UK trade, the Prosperity Fund risks losing the rightful focus on poverty reduction and is a step towards the return of tied aid. We recommend that existing programmes should be reviewed.
“It is essential that the UK’s spending on aid underpins the reduction of poverty. Almost three quarters of the world’s poorest people live in middle income countries but it is unclear to us how some projects – especially those under the banner of the Prosperity Fund - benefit the very poorest, marginalised or most vulnerable communities.”
Regardless of whether ODA is delivered by DFID or other departments, Ministers must ensure it is delivered to a consistently high standard.
DFID, ranked fourth amongst all global development agencies for transparency in the International Aid Transparency Index, should take the lead in promoting excellence across Whitehall. Its ‘world-leading position’ must not be jeopardised by a shift of ODA away from DFID.
Stephen Twigg MP, added:
“Although spreading the administration of ODA across Whitehall creates potential to establish new and innovative partnerships in aid delivery, it also risks undermining the quality of the UK’s ODA. We are concerned at the risks this poses to policy coherence, effective oversight and transparency. We are also concerned about the uneven focus on poverty reduction in programmes administered outside DFID.
“We call on Government to set out individual departmental responsibilities for delivering, overseeing, monitoring and coordinating ODA and how they correspond to the aims of the UK’s 2015 aid strategy.
“Ultimately, DFID’s experience in administering ODA means it should sign off on all the UK’s ODA, tightening up practice in other departments, developing capacity and receiving adequate resources to do so.”
Stephen Twigg said:
“We do not believe that major changes to the definition are required. The current definition does not preclude the UK from providing humanitarian assistance when it is needed. Attempts to manipulate the definition risk damaging the UK’s reputation for expertise and professionalism in aid delivery. We support the introduction of a mechanism to help countries whose development reverts, making them eligible once again for ODA.”