Watchdog critical of government’s progress on UK aid effectiveness

Published on 23 June 2021

The independent UK aid watchdog ICAI has rated the government’s response to its latest recommendations to improve aid effectiveness and value for money as inadequate, as well as expressing concern regarding FCDO’s lack of transparency. The criticism was made in a follow-up review published today that considered progress by the government against recommendations made by ICAI reviews in 2019/20.

ICAI was set up to evaluate and scrutinise the impact and value for money of all UK government overseas aid spending. Their three reviews in 2019/20 looked at how UK aid learns, preventing sexual violence in conflict and UK aid in Ghana. Today’s follow-up review also looked at outstanding issues from earlier reviews, including on maternal health, where programmes are now at risk from the recent cuts to the UK aid budget.

ICAI’s Chief Executive, Tamsyn Barton, highlighted that the ‘turbulence’ created by Covid-19 and the department merger of DFID with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office last year ‘set back progress’ in relation to implementing the recommendations to improve aid effectiveness and value for money.

While ICAI acknowledges the welcomed cooperation from ODA-spending departments including BEIS and the government’s development finance institution CDC, there are clear concerns regarding the lack of transparency from the FCDO. This is manifest in the greater level of resistance to ICAI requests for information from the new merged department. Due to this concern, ICAI has called for a renewed focus on transparency and accountability in UK aid in 2021.

Commenting on the ICAI follow-up review of 2019-20 reports, Professor Melissa Leach, Director of the Institute of Development Studies, said:

“The disruption caused by Covid-19 and then the decision to merge the DFID and the FCO last year has clearly had a detrimental impact on the ability to improve aid effectiveness in the areas reviewed. It is damning that the government’s responses to all three reviews have been rated by ICAI as inadequate.

“ICAI also highlights the lack of transparency and cooperation from FCDO which is extremely concerning and mirrors the opaque approach the FCDO has taken in applying the devastating UK aid cuts. Throughout this year there has been a lack of consultation with the sector and a failure to provide clear information on any impact assessments or any evidence-based decision making.

“High levels of transparency and accountability are essential for effective aid spending and for ensuring value for money for UK taxpayers. We simply cannot be a global leader in development without maintaining high standards for accountability and transparency in how UK aid funds are allocated and used.

“This review is a powerful reminder of how important the ICAI is as a watchdog entirely independent of government. The scrutiny that ICAI and the Parliamentary International Development Committee provides is vital to ensuring that UK aid spending is highly effective and evidence-based and contributes to tackling the world’s most pressing challenges.”

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