Parliamentary Committees and Public Enquiries
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Department for International Development priorities questioned

MPs on the International Development Committee say field work overseas should be given greater priority and Ministers must explain UK spending on humanitarian projects more clearly 

Launching its annual review of UK aid programmes and the administration of the Department for International Development (DFID), Sir Malcolm Bruce, Chair of the Committee said today:

“DFID staff should spend less time in their offices and more time out in the field building local knowledge and monitoring whether UK aid money is being used effectively.

We are also worried that the Department actually spends 40% of its budget in the last two months of the year, which raises questions about the smooth running of management and planning processes.

DFID must set out annually its provisional budget for humanitarian relief, what is held for contingencies for unpredictable events and how it will be deployed if not called upon.

We also call on the UK Government to press other countries to increase their spending on humanitarian crises as well as development. The UK has met the target of spending 0.7% of national income on aid; others should do the same.

UK spending on humanitarian assistance has risen substantially due partly to a very large increase in the aid budget for 2012-13. This will not, however, be repeated in future years as DFID’s budget will be linked to GDP. It will simply not be possible for DFID to continue taking the lead in future; other countries must do more.

DFID must not provide funds to support disasters in middle–income countries by raiding bilateral development programmes in low income countries. Rather, we argue for the percentage of income spent in low income countries to rise over time provided they are capable of absorbing it and of using aid effectively.”

In their Report the Committee also notes how—despite a small decline in 2012-13—the largest element (£1,075m) of DFID’s bilateral expenditure is money spent via multilateral organisations and private contractors. While MPs accept that DFID has put in place a number of changes to improve value for money provided by such organisations, the Committee also calls on DFID to monitor and report to them whether these changes have proved effective.

Linked to this the Committee cautions that DFID staff should have longer postings overseas (normally a minimum of four years) so that they can develop a deeper understanding of the culture and politics of the country they are working in and engage more effectively with the country’s politicians.

Committee Chair

Commenting on this Sir Malcolm Bruce added:

“In evidence to our inquiry various contractors were critical of DFID’s programme management. We welcome changes DFID has put in place, but recommend going forward that policy advisers spend more time in the field and work more closely with programme managers in these partner organisations.

Moreover, while DFID has low administrative costs compared to other development organisations we do not regard this as a virtue if it arises from failure to do the job properly rather than from genuine efficiency savings. DFID must reassure itself and Parliament that it is not simply sub-contracting work which would be better done in-house.”

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