Transparency in UK aid

A rapid review that examines transparency in UK and what has been learned about good practice on aid transparency.

  1. Status: Completed
  2. Published: 6 October 2022
  3. Type: Rapid review
  4. Subject: Anti-corruption, tax avoidance and fiduciary risk, Government processes and systems, UK aid funds
  5. Lead commissioner: Tarek Rouchdy

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Review

This review found that aid transparency plays a fundamental role in the UK’s commitment to providing high quality and accountable development assistance. However, a recent decline in aid transparency risks sending a signal that the UK’s commitment to excellence in development cooperation is waning.

Findings

  • The former Department for International Development (DFID) was the most transparent major bilateral donor agency during 2012-20.
  • It published detailed corporate information and applied a presumption of disclosure to programme information, with clear and coherent criteria applied for withholding this information.
  • DFID also took a leading role in promoting aid transparency, both globally and in the UK.
  • The former Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s (FCO) aid transparency performance was much more modest, although it improved over the review period, largely due to more timely reporting.
  • FCO did not pursue a clear and coherent approach to aid transparency, which led to diverse practices across its aid portfolios and challenges for usability.
  • The merged Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s (FCDO) performance in the 2022 Aid Transparency Index was lower than DFID’s, even though more than 90% of the activities assessed were previously managed by DFID indicating a change in culture towards aid transparency in the new department.
  • FCDO’s internal operational guidance includes an explicit commitment to aid transparency but maintains the publication practices of its predecessor departments for their respective aid portfolios and puts a disproportionate emphasis on the issue of information sensitivities.
  • Information on UK aid is widely used to undertake scrutiny of UK aid spending, but recent transparency weaknesses have hindered this scrutiny.
  • There was very limited transparency in relation to the 2020 aid budget reductions and there are concerns about the format of information on aid spending plans and budget reductions provided to Parliament.
  • There are some signs that aid transparency has supported more efficient aid management, but there has been limited exploration of the links to effectiveness.
  • DFID (and now FCDO) have supported modest but useful in-country work on aid transparency and played an important role in supporting other government departments on aid transparency.
  • There has been only limited engagement by DFID/FCDO to understand the needs of aid information users, particularly those from developing countries.
  • User engagement has had limited impact, in part because of limited human and financial resources allocated to this work.
  • IATI’s engagement with aid information users has been limited to date, and the UK is not currently playing an active role in challenging IATI to scale up this engagement.

Recommendations

  1. FCDO should set out clear and ambitious standards for transparency to be applied to all aid portfolios (including arm’s-length bodies) through its unified systems, including default and timely publication of full programme documents, and a rigorous process for assessing, approving and reporting on exclusions.
  2. FCDO should commit to achieving a standard of ‘very good’ in the Aid Transparency Index by 2024.
  3. FCDO should resume publishing forward aid spending plans, cross-departmental development results and country aid priorities.
  4. In FCDO priority countries, the department should work with other donors to support greater use of IATI data and other aid information sources, to strengthen aid effectiveness and accountability.

 

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Timeline

Approach

Published 20 May 2022

Evidence gathering

Complete

Review publication

Published 6 October 2022

Government response

Expected November 2022

Further scrutiny

To be confirmed