Saturday, 18 April 2015

The UK needs to be an intelligent giver (procurer)

Friday's Times reported an investigation into the UK's "scandal of squandered overseas aid".  At the centre of the story is the UK's commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP on overseas aid - now a legal obligation and endorsed by all three of the main political parties.

The issue is not whether or not the UK should be benevolent, or indeed whether we should be more generous, but Dfid's strategy of channelling the aid through multi-national agencies, such as the EU and the UN without retaining sufficient control and scrutiny of the spending. The suggestion is that the UK have outsourced its giving and, in so doing don't have a voice in scrutiny.

We are led to believe that over £6bn a year is contributed through the international agencies, 60% of the total amount, and that £6bn is not subject to UK oversight.

The giving of this £6bn is actually a procurement - the UK pay out some money in the anticipation of a delivery. Giving through the international agencies does not shackle the hands of the UK in terms of exercising its control. On the contrary the aggregation of the UKs aid with that of other countries should lead to a more strategic approach and more effective targeting. As one of the biggest 'givers', or should we say procurers, the UK is in a stronger negotiating position in demanding reforms and evidence of impact. Demanding reforms and evidence of impact is just good stewardship.

The incoming UK Government need to bring a new assertiveness to the aid strategy. They need to recognise that this is procurement. They need to develop a negotiating strategy. They need to have their own objectives which ring-fence how aid will be spend through the international agencies and they they to significantly improve accountability and performance management. Where that approach is resisted the UK shouldn't withdraw aid but instead redirect through channels where the required level of accountability will be satisfied. That would deliver the required value for money, accountability and improved impact.

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