The Newton Fund is a research and innovation partnership fund managed by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). It was established to develop science and innovation partnerships to reduce poverty by generating and putting into use knowledge and technology, with a secondary purpose to strengthen the UK’s wider prosperity and global influence by building ties with partner countries, promoting the UK as a global leader in development research and unlocking opportunities for collaboration and trade.
Our review of the Newton Fund finds that the fund was poorly designed to pursue the aim of promoting international development, and in reality its secondary objectives – such as building ties with partner countries like China, India, Brazil and South Africa – have often been the main driver of its work. An estimated 90% of UK aid spent through the Newton Fund stays in the UK with UK institutions, which is contrary, at least in spirit, to the UK government’s commitment to untying all UK aid.
BEIS has provided little effective oversight or management of the Newton Fund, resulting in weaknesses such as a lack of transparency and accountability, weak coordination within and across country partnerships, and a lack of a coherent approach across the fund to securing value for money and maximising development impact.
Although improvements have been made to the Fund’s working processes in recent years, the government needs to speed up its work to strengthen the Fund.
We awarded an amber-red score and made six recommendations. In our follow up review in July 2020, we found inadequate progress in addressing ICAI’s concerns over tied aid and attention to poverty reduction as the Fund’s primary purpose. We will return to the Newton Fund through the next follow-up in summer 2021.