UK aid spending during COVID-19: management of procurement through suppliers

Aid-spending government departments worked flexibly with suppliers to minimise the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their work, but lack of transparency about the government’s new aid priorities hampered delivery, and the long-term impact of the cuts to the UK aid programme remains to be seen.

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4 Dec 2020
Lead commissioner
Sir Hugh Bayley

This information note explores how government prioritised the aid programme to meet the urgent health and humanitarian needs faced by developing countries as a result of the pandemic, allocating nearly £800 million of new aid to respond to the challenge. Separately, the sharp fall in projected gross national income (GNI) resulted in £2.9 billion of cuts to the aid budget and the cancellation, pausing or postponement of ongoing and planned programmes – with major implications for suppliers and those receiving aid.

The information note covers the period from late January until September 2020, focusing primarily on the work of the former Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), before their merger in September. It looks at the two separate aid prioritisation processes that were carried out as the pandemic took hold – firstly, when government departments were asked to prioritise their work in order to respond to the pandemic, and later when all aid-spending departments were asked to identify “large cuts” in order to avoid exceeding the target of spending 0.7% of GNI on aid.

It examines how procurement processes were managed since the cuts, which came late in the year, required rapid changes to be made to existing grants and contracts, and to the pipeline of planned procurement.

Work on the note was completed before the announcement in last month’s Spending Review reducing the aid budget to 0.5% of GNI in 2021.

Proposed lines of enquiry

  1. How were programme performance and value for money factored into the prioritisation?
  2. Did decisions on which programmes to cut take account of the needs and vulnerabilities of recipient countries and populations?
  3. How have interruptions to ongoing aid programmes impacted recipient communities and what should FCDO do to minimise this?
  4. Drawing on lessons from DFID’s oversight and relationship management with commercial suppliers, how could FCDO strengthen its engagement with NGOs and other not-for-profit suppliers?

International Development Committee

We expect there will be an International Development Committee hearing into this note in due course.