ICAI follow-up of 2020-21 review reports mixed results
Lack of clarity about direction and resources available continue to affect the implementation of recommendations intended to improve the effectiveness and impact of the UK’s aid spending, a new report by the UK’s aid watchdog has found.
The annual follow-up review, published today (Thursday 30th June) by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI), looks back at the seven ICAI reviews published in the last annual review cycle from July 2020 to July 2021, assessing and scoring the government’s progress in implementing ICAI’s recommendations.
ICAI said the government’s engagement with ICAI’s follow-up exercise had been stronger than last year, but its report showed mixed results overall. ICAI found that challenges created by the merger which created the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) in 2020, the successive reductions of the UK’s aid budget and delays to the “long-awaited” international development strategy continue to impact the government’s response to its recommendations.
ICAI’s chief commissioner, Dr Tamsyn Barton, said:
“ICAI’s follow-up process has always been an important part of our efforts to improve the way UK aid is spent. But in the turbulence following the establishment of FCDO and successive aid budget reductions, it is more important than ever.
“We have seen improvements in response to our reviews. However, the fall-off in implementation of our recommendations compared to the past continues this year, and there remain concerns about proper record-keeping and transparency.
“We hope the long-awaited new international development strategy will provide clarity on the way forward for the UK and enable better implementation of ICAI’s recommendations next year.”
The aid watchdog scored the government’s progress addressing its recommendations in four ICAI reviews as inadequate and confirms that it will return to reassess progress again next year.
ICAI highlighted a number of positive examples showing how its recommendations had been used well. These included stronger cross-government working and a more ‘survivor-centred’ approach to UK aid programming on conflict-related sexual violence. ICAI also highlighted an improved cross-sectoral approach to maternal health that focuses on equity, rights and the quality of care, as well as a shift to thinking about the long-term impact of maternal health programming, albeit in a setting of considerable uncertainty about future funding in this area.
However, ICAI reported a lack of concrete changes and slow progress in other reviews, noting that capacity issues had constrained the government’s ability to respond to ICAI’s recommendations in some cases.
The watchdog highlighted a reduction in the comprehensiveness of record keeping in FCDO, which it said is particularly important to ensure effective management in periods of great flux, such as the one UK aid is currently going through.
ICAI also reported a deterioration in the transparency of UK aid spending in FCDO, with documentation no longer systematically available to public scrutiny and the evidence provided to ICAI on request varying in its comprehensiveness.
The aid watchdog warned that it is crucial that FCDO strengthens its approach to monitoring and record-keeping, to maintain institutional memory. It also reports that FCDO should ensure that records are accessible, to enable public scrutiny of UK aid spending.