Aid cash wasted in rush to hit tar­gets

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page - By Laura Hughes and Gor­don Rayner

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.”

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