Aid cash wasted in rush to hit targets
GOVERNMENT departments are “struggling” to spend all of the overseas aid money they have been allocated, the spending watchdog has said, prompting fresh demands for the foreign aid target to be scrapped.
A National Audit Office (NAO) report raised concerns that money is being wasted because of the “rush” by civil servants to hit the legal requirement of spending 0.7 per cent of the nation’s income on overseas aid.
The Government has been accused of spending money needlessly to meet “artificial targets” after the report revealed five out of 11 of its departments spent more than half of their annual aid budget in the last few weeks of the year to meet financial deadlines.
While many departments have faced cuts to their budgets, foreign aid spending has soared as the economy has grown because of a promise written into law in 2015 by David Cameron to spend 0.7 per cent of gross national income on aid.
Theresa May, the Prime Minister, has faced repeated calls to cut aid spending, which reached £13 billion last year, to fund public services.
The NAO report said that while the Department for International Development (DFID) had improved its management of aid money, it accounted for 74 per cent of spending, with the other 26 per cent spread across other departments and bodies.
The Departments of Health; Culture, Media and Sport; Energy and Climate Change; Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the cross-departmental Prosperity Fund spent more than half of their 2016 allocation in the last quarter of the year, it found.
The report concluded that deadlines set by the Treasury meant there was a risk the funding “might be rushed”.
The NAO also said the departments did not have the staff and systems in place to deal with the increase in the amount of taxpayers’ money of which they were required to dispose.
Peter Bone, the Conservative MP for Wellingborough, said: “This is the problem with the system and we really need to the abandon the 0.7 per cent target as soon as possible. We know that the government departments are spending money to meet these artificial targets, not on the basis of need.”
Britain is one of only six nations to hit the UN’S 0.7 per cent aid target, with Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, which all have much smaller economies.
Sir Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “The Government has decided that departments and cross-government funds other than DFID should have responsibility for expenditure which makes up the 0.7 per cent aid target. This means that meeting the target has become a more complex undertaking and the resulting gaps in accountability and responsibility require more effort to manage.”
Richard Pyle, Oxfam’s head of UK policy, said the report showed many departments were “falling short” in their handling of official development assistance (ODA), while Neil Thorns, director of advocacy at the aid agency CAFOD, said it was “imperative” that all aid spending was “held to the same standards of transparency and effectiveness as money spent by DFID”.
A DFID spokesman said: “DFID is responsible for 74 per cent of the Government’s ODA spending. Other government departments have direct responsibility for their share of the development budget and are accountable to Parliament and UK taxpayers for how they spend ODA.
“The International Development Secretary continuously reviews all DFID spending and stops programmes deemed not to be delivering value for money or which fail to meet international development objectives.”