Positive progress on well over half of ICAI recommendations from 2022-23

16 May 2024

The government has made adequate progress implementing well over half of the aid watchdog’s recommendations over the past year, a new report finds today (Thursday 16 May). This is a marked improvement from last year.

The annual follow-up review from the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) looks back at recommendations from the nine reviews published between October 2022 and June 2023, plus other outstanding areas of concern, assessing progress by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and other departments on their improvements in response to scrutiny.

It found that as in previous years, the government engaged constructively with the follow-up process, which is a key link in the accountability chain that provides Parliament and the public with an account of how well departments have responded to ICAI reviews.

Overall, the government was found to be adequately addressing 57% of ICAI’s recommendations. However, the picture was mixed between different reviews and government departments.

For example, in the case of ICAI’s reviews on transparency, FCDO’s programme operating framework (PrOF), Afghanistan and agriculture, there were found to be strong responses. While for the review on the use of UK aid to support asylum seekers and refugees domestically, of which the Home Office spends the majority, the responses to all recommendations were found to be inadequate, and the response to the review of peacebuilding work was also disappointing.

ICAI Chief Commissioner, Dr Tamsyn Barton, said:

“We follow up with the government after all our reviews to make sure they are making the improvements they have committed to and maximising value for money for the taxpayer.

“There have been positive improvements this year, particularly in areas such as transparency and UK aid to agriculture in the context of climate change. But the government’s use of a third of the aid budget to support refugees and asylum seekers in the UK – an inequitable and inefficient system – continues to be one of our biggest concerns.”

Positive findings include on aid transparency, where FCDO has reasserted its ambition to be an international leader in the field and is on track to receive a ‘very good’ score on the 2024 Aid Transparency Index.

On agriculture, the report said the UK’s co-hosting of a global food security summit in November 2023, in the run-up to COP28, was a strong sign of its commitment in this area. FCDO has also made efforts to strengthen the focus on climate change and nutrition in UK aid for agriculture as recommended by ICAI.

For ICAI’s review of the PrOF – FCDO’s central framework for how programmes and projects should be managed – the follow-up welcomed the improvements in compliance and the fact that the department had mandated training for ambassadors and high commissioners with programme budgets of more than £1 million.

Less positive findings included the response to ICAI’s review of peacebuilding. ICAI found that FCDO’s conflict-related programming continues to operate mainly on annual cycles, despite peacebuilding work by its nature requiring long-term, patient engagement and trust-building. The UK had also not yet taken steps to learn from other aid donors on balancing the risk of travelling to conflict-affected areas with the need to enable staff to visit the places where they are managing programmes.

Despite progress in some areas of work on democracy and human rights. including better coordination with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, the follow-up reiterated concerns from ICAI’s original review that FCDO was not willing to take more risks in order to protect human rights defenders and was not able to retain enough governance advisors at senior levels or in its embassies.

ICAI raised significant concerns in its follow-up of aid spending on refugees in the UK, which was published separately last month. This found that aid spending on asylum seekers and refugees in the UK rose to £4.3bn in 2023, constituting 28% of the official development assistance (ODA) budget, driven by the Home Office’s high spending on hotel accommodation. Value for money and efficiency concerns raised by ICAI in its 2023 review had not been effectively addressed, the follow-up found.

Also published separately last month was ICAI’s follow-up of UK aid to India. The government’s response to its recommendations were also rated as inadequate, and ICAI raised particular concerns around the oversight of investments via funds by British Investment International (BII), the UK’s development finance institution. ICAI found that BII had invested via an Indian fund in firms including a social media site which featured abuse of women and glorification of the Hamas attacks on Israel.

Some outstanding issues from reviews in previous years were also followed up in today’s report, such as the alignment of UK aid with the Paris Agreement on climate change. Last year ICAI found the UK was not yet reporting publicly on how UK aid spend aligns with the treaty, a commitment made by Theresa May in June 2019.

This year’s further follow-up found there had been significant improvements in cross-government internal reporting on this area, with other government departments writing to FCDO to set out their approaches to align their ODA spending with the Paris Agreement. However, ICAI said it remains a concern that this reporting is still not in the public domain, and there are also still improvements to be made to the UK’s engagement with developing countries on this issue.

ICAI returns to all its reviews to monitor the government’s progress in implementing recommendations, giving each a score of “adequate” or “inadequate”.

An “adequate” score means that enough progress has been made in the right areas and in a timely manner to address the core concerns underpinning ICAI’s recommendation. An “inadequate” score means that either too little has been done to address concerns; the response is insufficiently relevant to the concerns; or implementation of actions has been too slow, meaning ICAI cannot sufficiently judge their effectiveness.

Read the report

Sign up to our newsletter to receive notifications of our latest news and reports

ICAI will use your personal data only to contact you about our work via email(Required)
You can find more information in our Privacy notice. Please check your Junk folder for a verification email to confirm your subscription.