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UK aid spending: government rejects recommendations for accountability

Today the UK government published its official response to the International Development Select Committee’s (IDC) inquiry into how official development assistance (ODA) is defined and spent across government.

The government is accountable to parliament and the UK public on aid spending. Despite the IDC’s recommendations, the government has rejected crucial recommendations for any government department investing UK aid to be accountable to the Department for International Development (DFID). DFID’s oversight would ensure all departments are meeting the same standards and working to the same objectives of alleviating poverty and reaching the world’s poorest people.

In June, the IDC published a report into the government’s cross-Whitehall ODA spending along with its work to redefine ODA through the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee. At the time, we welcomed the report along with its recommendations, as they sought to “put reducing poverty in the lives of others at the heart of aid spending”.

In today’s response to committee’s inquiry, the government stated whether they agreed, partially agreed, or disagreed with each of the seven recommendations on the ODA definition, and the 13 recommendations on the administration of ODA.

How ODA is defined

The government agreed or partially agreed with five of the seven recommendations around the definition of ODA and the IDC’s work around re-defining it. However, they disagreed with the following recommendations:

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  • The government should oppose any proposals which would allow all humanitarian assistance – irrespective of the economic status of the recipient country – to be counted as ODA.
  • The government should oppose any further increase in the proportion of UN peacekeeping operations which can be counted as ODA.

How ODA is spent

Of the 13 recommendations around the administration of ODA, the government agreed with two recommendations and partially agreed with seven. However, it disagreed with the following four:

  • The secretary of state for international development should have ultimate responsibility for oversight of the UK’s ODA and the Department for International Development (DFID) should have final sign off of all ODA.
  • Just as DFID commissions agencies to conduct work on the ground or pays into multilateral funds, while retaining oversight of UK ODA and ensuring quality control of ODA spending, the government should consider whether other government departments should only receive ODA money if they have acquired it through DFID. This way, DFID can have oversight and ensure that the money “cannot be better spent”.
  • In light of widespread concerns about the funds, including from the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy (JCNSS), we recommend that the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) should be given responsibility to scrutinise the totality of the cross-government funds, as well as other programmes that blend ODA and non-ODA spending.
  • Following criticism on other funds, the government reviews the Conflict Stability and Security Fund (CSSF) and Prosperity Fund.

Claire Godfrey, head of policy and campaigns at Bond, comments:

“It’s disappointing that the government has buried its head in the sand in response to such explicit criticisms of aid spent by departments other than DFID, particularly in light of the secretary of state’s previously welcomed assurance that she would ensure aid money “cannot be better spent”. The IDC’s recommendations provided DFID with the perfect opportunity to hold other government departments to account for their spend of UK aid.

“Both the Conflict Stability and Security Fund and Prosperity Fund have been criticised for lagging behind DFID’s high standards, using confidentiality as an excuse for a lack of transparency and for poorly targeting the needs of the poor – this cannot be allowed to continue.”