This blog first appeared on the Bond website.
An alliance of organisations, formed under the Bond Transparency Working Group (TWG), has been pushing for more and better transparency of the UK’s aid budget throughout 2023.
In doing so, Publish What You Fund, Save the Children and Development Initiatives have succeeded in updating an aid transparency commitment in collaboration with the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) which begins to address the challenges facing aid transparency in the changing context of UK aid.
UK aid context
Aid and development funding in the UK has been re-framed over the past few years. Following the global shocks of the pandemic, increasing conflict and rising inflation, CSOs working on the aid and development agenda have had to keep a close eye on changes, which is not always an easy task.
The UK has responded to these global shocks by combining the development and foreign office budgets, pivoting aid towards other government departments and tapping into the ‘billions to trillions’ agenda by focussing on private investments. This means that the transparency of where aid is being spent is more crucial than ever.
Getting information about the real-world impact of these changes on policy areas, budgets and, crucially, on poverty reduction has been challenging. For several months in 2023 the UK’s regular publication on aid and development data was stopped following the merger that formed the FCDO. This severely limited understanding of how the aid budget was being affected.
Budgets and policies were modified in light of increased spending by other departments and further budgetary cuts. In addition, the increased use of private vehicles also reduced transparency as private entities, with no requirement to publish their data to the public, took more of the aid budget.
UK transparency statements
To date the UK has made several public statements to improve its aid transparency. These have included clear commitments to improve transparency in the recent White Paper, statements by Andrew Mitchell at an International Development select committee hearing in February 2023and FCDO’s response to the ICAI rapid review on aid transparency in December 2022. Whilst these statements are welcome, they lack a clear and joined up approach.
In addition, the UK’s public commitment to aid transparency as part of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) National Action Plan five (NAP 5) is due to expire at the end of 2023. This commitment was co-created by government and civil society with the aim of creating a coherent commitment on aid transparency.
What is the Open Government Partnership (OGP)?
The OGP is a unique partnership that promotes transparent, participatory, inclusive and accountable governance. It includes 75 countries, 104 local governments and thousands of CSOs. Through the OGP framework, governments and civil society co-create a two-year action plan, with concrete steps across a broad range of issues. This model allows civil society organisations to help shape and oversee government policy. The UK government has now published its sixth National Action Plan (NAP 6), which includes a renewed commitment to aid transparency building upon the commitments in NAP 5.
The alliance formed under the Bond TWG began working closely with the FCDO in July 2023 to develop the NAP 6 aid transparency commitment. After four meetings, numerous drafts and input from members a commitment has now been reached. It has four broad focus areas:
- to improve FCDO data publishing to internationally recognised standards
- to continue the conversation with other government departments on their transparency
- to bring the UK’s private vehicle, British International Investment (BII), into the conversation for the first time
- to strengthen engagement with data users.
The aid transparency commitment
The NAP 6 commitment on aid transparency has tangible milestones to improve FCDOs publishing, for example, by committing the department to achieve ‘Very Good’ in the 2024 Aid Transparency Index. The TWG were also keen to continue the conversation with the other government departments (OGDs) accessing the aid budget, particularly the Home Office and the new Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) and Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT). Finally, British International Investment has taken a step to join the discussion by committing to develop a transparency roadmap. In addition to these, there are milestones for the UK to engage in technical data access issues and user training which means the UK is looking beyond its own publishing practices and engaging with the wider debates of data use and access.
The TWG were keen to develop a commitment for NAP 6 which would work for civil society and government, with the addition that it should try and build on NAP 5 where possible. Whilst the latter has certainly been achieved with the new commitment on BII, the continued inclusion of the commitment for the OGDs represents a role-over from NAP 5. This reflects the slower pace of progress being made by non-FCDO departments and indicates where work is still required.
The Transparency Working Group thanks the UK FCDO for their time and effort in building this commitment together. Now that the commitment has been published we look forward to working with them to engage all stakeholders in the aid transparency movement. This will include building a feedback loop to improve FCDO and other department data quality and access, engaging new data users with training and to provide regular updates on progress.
Join the Transparency Working group to find out more and keep in touch with the data user and access trainings which are being planned.