How Transparent is UK Aid;

Submission to the IDC inquiry into the effectiveness of UK Aid - April 2020

 

  1. About Publish What You Fund

Publish What You Fund is the global campaign for aid and development transparency. We envisage a world where aid and development information is transparent, available and used for effective decision-making, public accountability and lasting change for all citizens.

We work to ensure that all aid and development data is transparent and available, usable and used. We believe that this kind of data has the potential to be transformative and contribute to better development outcomes and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We combine robust research and technical expertise with targeted advocacy in order to make aid and development efforts more transparent and effective.

We are an independent NGO and have been central to the aid and development finance transparency movement since 2008. Our head office is in London and we maintain representation in Washington DC, where our work is supported by Friends of Publish What You Fund.

  1. Our submission

 

    1. Introduction

The UK government’s 2015 aid strategy included the re-commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income on official development assistance (ODA). It also set out a cross-government approach to aid spending, drawing on the expertise of government departments other than the Department for International Development (DFID). In 2018 DFID spent 75% of the aid budget and the remaining 25% was spent by 14 different government departments. These ODA-spending departments now need to meet ODA transparency standards. The provision of transparent aid data allows both aid recipients and taxpayers to scrutinise how aid is being spent and assess if it is being delivered effectively and providing value for money. The 2015 aid strategy set a target for all government departments to be ranked as “Good” or “Very Good” in the Aid Transparency Index within five years.

In order to assess progress against this target, DFID asked Publish What You Fund to carry out a review of UK aid transparency. Between April and October 2019, we used our Aid Transparency Index methodology to score departments against transparency indicators and rank them according to their levels of transparency. The process involved engagement, data collection, feedback and an independent review. We were asked to assess ten of the government departments that are spending significant amounts of ODA. We also carried out narrative reviews of two of the new cross government funds – the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF) and Prosperity Fund. Our findings, “How Transparent is UK Aid? A review of ODA spending departments” were published in January 2020.

Base on the findings of this research, and insights gained throughout the process, we hereby submit evidence to the inquiry with a specific focus on the following question:

“How effective and transparent is the UK aid spent by the Department for International Development (DFID) compared to aid allocated to other Government departments and to the cross-Government funds?”

    1. How transparent is UKAID?

Our research identified that three government departments have reached the level of transparency set out in the 2015 UK Aid Strategy. DFID maintained its “Very Good” score, ranking first among the departments – a noteworthy finding given the volume and complexity of the aid flows managed by DFID compared to other departments. The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) came in second place, also with a “Very Good” score, while the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) ranked third, with a score in the “Good” category. This was a significant achievement for DHSC and BEIS, as it was their first assessment.

Some departments being scored for the first time were also able to achieve positive results, scoring in the upper half of the “Fair” category. These were the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Home Office.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) improved on its “Poor” ranking from the 2018 Index, moving into the “Fair” category for the first time, in joint seventh place with the Ministry of Defence (MOD). This was largely thanks to more regular publication of data to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) registry. The MOD was last assessed in the 2014 Index when it scored “Very Poor”. Its score in the “Fair” category in this assessment is a significant improvement. The MOD is now publishing detailed information about its projects and policies to the IATI registry and could further improve its score by increasing the regularity of its publication and publishing more project documents.

All assessed departments are now publishing data to the IATI registry. The Department for Education (DFE) and Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) started publishing to IATI for the first time, but publish infrequently and with limited data about their projects, scoring them in the “Poor” and “Very Poor” categories respectively. A large part of their ODA spend is on in-country refugees and asylum-seekers, which is based on estimates of the number of users or claimants. As such it is more difficult for them to produce detailed project information and documentation. However, it is important that they provide as much information as possible about the way their ODA resources are used.

Performance (project information used to track performance and impact) was the worst scoring component across all departments. Four of the departments scored no points for any of the performance indicators. Three departments published good quality results data: DFID, Home Office and BEIS, and three published reviews and evaluations of their projects: DFID, DHSC and BEIS.

There were two rounds of data collection and the departments significantly improved their scores during the process. The average score across departments increased from 41.9 from the first data collection to 56.5 from the second. During the process departments also significantly increased the amount of data they are making publicly available on the IATI registry.

While it is important to recognise the hard work and achievements of the departments to make significantly more and better data available about their ODA policies, projects and programmes, there is much still to be done in order to reach the government’s own targets. Three of the departments reached the target, but seven departments fell short and will need to make significant improvements.

    1. Recommendations

While we have provided the report’s detailed recommendations below we wanted to take this opportunity to present our most pressing concerns regarding the transparency of UK Aid at this time.

The reports’ detailed recommendations were as follows:

 

 

Submission to the IDC inquiry into the effectiveness of UK Aid - April 2020