DfID: "A juggernaut out of control"

Shocking news in The Times  (£) this morning, as it is revealed that Britain is paying professional aid staff up to £1,000 a day as part of a “spending frenzy” to meet the Government’s 0.7 per cent of GDP spending target.

Far from supporting those most in need, spending on consultants has doubled in the past four years to £1.4 billion – more than 10 per cent of the overall aid budget. The Times investigation found that hundreds of “team leaders” on aid projects earn at least £120,000 a year when accommodation and expenses are taken into account.

Consultants are said to offer “blue skies thinking” about how to deliver aid on the ground, but even those in the industry have expressed significant scepticism about their role – one recent blog suggested that “most consultants are rubbish. The majority simply don’t add much value.”

The Times also reveals that Britain gives more than half of its £12 billion aid budget to international agencies – thus ceding control of how the money is spent.

We do not have space or time to delve into the morality or otherwise of foreign aid.

But it is becoming increasingly apparent, as we predicted, that the arbitrary target to spend 0.7 per cent of GDP on foreign aid has led to all sorts of (presumably) unintended consequences.

The National Audit Office has already delivered its verdict. At the end of 2013, a rush to spend money to hit the target resulted in the Department for International Development (DfID) had to find £1 billion-worth of projects in just two months. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t produce the most efficient spending.

Too often in the public sector, success is measured by inputs rather than outputs. Spending money in and of itself is inherently a good thing, regardless of whether it actually delivers results on the ground. That is nowhere more true than in foreign aid.

And don’t just take our word for it. Gordon Bridger, a former aid official, describes DfID as a “juggernaut out of control.” Garth Glentworth, another who has spent a career administering aid, says that “DfID’s obese budget means it has to get the money out of the door as quickly as possible.”

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with foreign aid. There are sound arguments for effective spending abroad, both morally and on a practical basis. But giving a Government department a minimum spend, ringfencing the budget and measuring efficacy only by how much is spent, is policy lunacy. Taxpayers deserve better. 

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