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MPs publish interim report calling for DFID to stay independent

9 June 2020

The International Development Committee has today published an interim report for its inquiry Effectiveness of UK Aid.

Excellent reputation but areas for improvement

UK aid has an excellent reputation around the world. The Government remains committed to spending 0.7% of GNI on official development assistance (ODA), and the Department for International Development (DFID) has globally acknowledged expertise which has been developed since its creation. 

Representing the first part of its contribution to the Government’s Integrated Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy Review, the International Development Committee highlights some areas of improvement that must be addressed to strengthen UK aid.

Independent department crucial

The case for an independent aid-giving department, with a Cabinet-level Minister leading its work, is imperative if the UK is to help end extreme poverty. DFID’s focus on this mission is reflected in its contributions to address global development goals, and the Committee is concerned that any changes to current Government systems could undermine the UK’s reputation and influence overseas. Further, with expectations that COVID-19 will significantly impact developing countries in the coming months, machinery of Government changes and reorganising the aid effort could impair the effectiveness of aid, including spend to tackle the pandemic

The Committee heard how the increasing spend of ODA outside of DFID, which now accounts for more than one quarter of all Government aid spend, has created challenges for its management. Concerns have also been raised that other Government departments are failing to target their aid spend sufficiently towards poverty reduction which could be addressed with improved oversight.

Ministerial oversight of ODA spending recommended

The International Development Secretary told the Committee that there has not been a regular ministerial review of ODA spend by Government departments since 2018. She also suggested that minister-led oversight for all Government ODA could be beneficial to ensure strategic and effective aid spending. The Committee agrees with this assertion and urges the Government to restore ministerial-led oversight of ODA spending budgets across Whitehall. Individual Government departments should also commit to improving transparency in their ODA spending.

The Committee welcomes the commitment of the Government to continue spending 0.7% of GNI on ODA, and to adhere to the OECD’s DAC definition of ODA. However, it is imperative that the UK Aid Strategy is published in advance of the Spending Review to ensure the UK’s aid outputs are based on strategic planning rather than fitting around Whitehall budgets.

Chair's comments

International Development Committee Chair, Sarah Champion MP, said:

“We have heard glowing reviews of DFID’s work helping the world’s poorest, and it is clear that it stands head and shoulders above other ODA-spending departments. 

“We are not convinced that all ODA programmes administered outside of DFID are properly targeted towards poverty reduction or the most vulnerable. Given the enormity of the UK’s aid budget, it is particularly shocking that transparency remains a huge problem that Government departments are failing to grapple. 

“Work is currently paused on the Government’s Integrated Review as resources are rightly diverted to tackling coronavirus. When work does re-start, we urge Ministers to recognise DFID’s world-leading reputation, commit to its continuation as a standalone department and to get a grip on oversight for Government ODA.”

Recommendations

Further recommendations included in the interim report are:

  • Adhering to the objective to reduce poverty, the Government should review the growth in ODA directed to middle-income countries;
  • The Committee advocates strongly for the retention of DFID, but if the Government should decide to make any changes to current systems and structures, it should present a statement to Parliament setting out an evidence-led rationale, quantifying expected costs and how intended benefits justify the costs; 
  • While the Committee recognises UK aid often supports programmes in challenging environments, the Government must not be deterred from seeking to monitor and evaluating its impact.

The Government’s Integrated Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy review is currently on hold as Whitehall focuses its efforts on tackling coronavirus (COVID-19). The Committee is taking this opportunity to publish its interim findings ahead of the work on the Integrated Review being revisited. The Committee will report further before summer recess 2020.

Further information

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