We at Publish What You Fund don’t often get involved in debates about how much overseas aid the UK (or any other country) gives. We are concerned purely and simply with how transparent aid is – because no-one can be sure that it is effective and useful unless they can easily access information about it. And, better still, because transparency can itself help to make aid more effective, by providing the tools for better coordination with other donors, and harmonisation with developing nations’ own budget plans.
Nonetheless, we warmly welcome the Chancellor’s decision to stick to the British government’s long-standing promise to protect the aid budget – and progress towards the 40-year-old goal of 0.7% of Gross National Income. George Osborne is correct when he argues that maintaining the UK’s aid commitment is “sound foreign policy for Britain.” The UK Department for International Development (DFID) commands an enormous amount of respect around the world. Both developing countries and other donor agencies regard DFID as one of the best in the business. British taxpayers should be proud of the value for money they are getting from the still small proportion of government money that DFID spends.
One of the reasons for this is that DFID takes its own transparency so seriously. Last year they came top in our annual Aid Transparency Index and they continue to lead the way in making sure that detailed information on their activities – including results and precise locations – is made available in a timely, accessible and comparable format. Because they do this, it is much easier to assess the effectiveness of their programmes. Inevitably, some are better than others, but a combination of internal review and external scrutiny from development experts and the media ensures that DFID is well placed to learn both from its mistakes and its own – and others’ best practices.
It should also be remembered that not all of the 0.7% Official Development Assistance will come from DFID’s coffers. Other government departments – including the Foreign Office, Department for Energy and Climate Change and Ministry of Defence – also provide some support to developing countries that counts towards that target. It is therefore crucial that those ministries are also equally transparent about what their resources are spent on, and with what results.
Publish What You Fund will continue to engage with these departments, as well as DFID, to ensure that information is openly available on every penny of UK aid. With ever greater transparency, UK citizens can be clear about the benefits of continuing to play their part in ending global poverty.