The government is struggling to monitor whether overseas aid is spent effectively because no one has been given responsibility for checking it, the National Audit Office has said.
In a report called Managing the Official Development Assistance Target – A Report on Progress published today, the NAO says that although the UK is meeting its commitment to spending 0.7 per cent of gross national income on overseas aid, there are gaps in its approach to accountability.
The government has broken up responsibility for contributing to the 0.7 per cent aid target among government departments and funds other than the Department for International Development, the report says.
DfID was responsible for distributing just over 80 per cent of the overall spending on official development assistance in 2015, the last year for which figures were available for the report.
"The landscape for meeting the target has become more complex as a consequence and a number of gaps in accountability and responsibility have appeared," the report says.
One of these gaps is that the UK Aid Strategy, drawn up by DfID and the Treasury, did not identify which part of government had responsibility for implementing it or checking on its progress, or is ultimately accountable for its delivery, the report says.
DfID and the Treasury monitor other government departments’ and funds’ expenditure on the ODA, and each department is responsible for making sure all of its expenditure, including that on the ODA, secures value for money.
But it says: "No single part of government has responsibility for monitoring the overall effectiveness and coherence of ODA expenditure."
Richard Pyle, head of UK policy at Oxfam, which received £177.2m from government and other public authorities in the year to 31 March 2016, said: "It's clear from this report that the vast majority of the UK’s aid money is well spent and well managed. It makes a massive difference to the world’s poorest people."
But he said: "The UK public rightly expects the government to be clear about where aid money is spent and for it to be spent effectively to help those most in need. This report shows that too often other departments – to which 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."