Top UK civil servant wants to stop more aid being spent outside DfID

30 Nov 18

A top UK Department for International Development civil servant has vowed to fight attempts to spend increasing amounts of aid money outside his department.

This comes as the government is looking to redirect money from the aid budget, which is protected under the 0.7% of GNI commitment, to other departments.

Permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft told MPs of the International Development Committee earlier this week that we wanted to ensure the aid department spends at least 75% of UK’s official development assistance.

DfID spent 71.9% of ODA in 2017, compared with 73.8% in 2016, statistics released yesterday revealed.

The proportion of ODA spent by DfID has been steadily declining in recent years as a result of the government’s 2015 ‘cross-government aid strategy’. This calls for up to 30% of aid to be spent by other departments by 2020.

On Wednesday, Rycroft was questioned by the select committee about whether ODA spent by DfID was likely to fall even further.

He said: “We feel as though it should not fall any further - indeed it should go up a bit just to make sure that we really can ensure the 0.7% [target] will be hit each year.

“Anything under 75% is quite difficult to get to that certainty.”

Rycroft added: “We will obviously live with whatever the spending round is… but we will go into that spending round with a confident proposition.”

Civil society groups have criticised the cross-government spending in the past, with concerns that not all aid goes towards poverty reduction and a lack of transparency on how money is spent. 

PF International understands that some people working in the aid sector worry the aid money is used to fill budget gaps in other departments, for example in the foreign office, whose budget has been cut.

Other departments have also been slammed for the lack of transparency.

Rycroft recognised this and said that in principle, he supports the cross-government aid strategy.

But he added that “we need to make sure that there is proper coherence as well as transparency and value for money”.  

In 2017, the UK provided £14.1bn in ODA. Of this, £3,955m was spent by non-DfID departments, an increase of £450m on 2016.

The other departments in charge of ODA include the Foreign Office, Department of Health and Social Care and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

In June, the International Development Committee warned in a report that some cross-government spending marked as ODA did not have clear poverty reduction targets, which undermines UK aid.

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