Overseas aid of more than £12bn is not being properly monitored against the government’s goals, Whitehall’s spending watchdog has found.
Funding is being channelled more widely through Whitehall, but no department is in charge of measuring how well the money is being used, the National Audit Office (NAO) said in a report [pdf] on Tuesday.
Some departments are struggling to spend their official development assistance (ODA) because they do not have the staff and systems in place to deal with the increase in money that they are handling, said auditors. Treasury deadlines mean there is a risk the funding “might be rushed”, they said.
While the Department for International Development (DfID) has improved its management of aid money, other departments are facing “challenges”, with five of the 11 examined by the NAO spending more than half of their allocation in the last three months of 2016.
About £12.1bn was spent on aid in 2015 across 14 government departments and the figure is expected to have reached £13.3bn last year.
After laws were brought in committing the government to spending 0.7% of national income on ODA, a new aid strategy was drawn up setting out the main objectives ministers hoped the money would achieve.
In addition to strengthening security and governance, the government wanted to enhance crisis resilience, promote global prosperity and tackle extreme poverty. Progress can only be measured for tackling extreme poverty, the NAO report said.
“With only one of the four of the UK aid strategy’s objectives supported by measurable targets, it is not possible to assess progress in its implementation,” it said.
The NAO also set out the trends in aid spending, including figures released last year showing that DfID gave £275m to upper middle income countries and £1.1bn to lower middle income nations.
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% 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. HM Treasury and DfID, together with other relevant bodies, should now focus on developing ways to demonstrate the overall effectiveness and coherence of ODA expenditure.”
A DfID spokesman said: “DfID is responsible for 74% 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.”
Aid charities raised concerns about the findings and called for better accountability in the way money is being sent. Oxfam’s head of UK policy, Richard Pyle, said: “This report shows that too often other departments – to whom the government is giving increasing volumes of aid – are falling short in this respect.
“No financial increases should be made by ministers to non-DfID departments, without action to improve the transparency and quality of aid they deliver.”
Katherine Sladden, UK director of the One campaign, which tackles poverty, said: “The progress DfID has made in managing its budget is to be applauded – but more accountability is needed across government.”