Just three out of ten government departments with sizeable aid budgets are meeting government transparency targets around how they spend it, a government-commissioned review has found.
Only the Department for International Development and the Department for Health and Social Care scored “very good” on the Aid Transparency Index used by the campaign group Publish What You Fund to measure departments’ compliance with the transparency requirements of the government’s 2015 aid strategy.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy landed a “good” score on the index.
Departments have until the end of this year to meet the transparency targets set out in the 2015 strategy. This equates to a “good” score on the index, which looks at the accessibility of aid data in five areas: project attributes; results and performance; organisational planning and commitments; finances; and joined-up development.
DfID was then highest-scoring of the 10 departments, which together spent £13bn in Official Development Assistance altogether in 2018, scoring 86.9 out of 100 for transparency. It spent three-quarters of the UK’s total aid budget in 2018.
By contrast, the Department for Work and Pensions scored just 19.6, marking it “very poor”, and the Department for Education’s 37.5 score landed it in the “poor” category.
PWYF found “encouraging signs of improvement on data publication and commitment to transparency” in line with the aims of the five-year strategy since it was launched in 2015.
However, it also identified a notable lack of information available on the results and impact of aid spending. Departments’ scores were lowest in the performance data category of the transparency index.
“This kind of information is vital for learning and continual improvement of the efficacy of aid programmes. It is essential if UK aid is to maintain its world-class reputation and ultimately if we want to make the greatest contribution to alleviating poverty and hitting the Sustainable Development Goals,” the report’s author, Alex Tilley, said.
Tilley urged departments to share more evaluations and results of their aid spending. The current aid strategy runs up to the end of 2020, and Tilley said it was vital that its replacement “maintains the commitment to transparency, with measurable targets”.
“We need to build on the momentum for improved transparency,” he said.
With less than a year left to meet the target of reaching “good” or above on the transparency index, PWYF urged departments with lower scores to “raise the bar” by publishing basic activity data such as objectives, procurement data and budget line items.
Those with higher scores should focus on improving the quality of their results and performance data, the campaigning group said.
A government spokesperson said: “More transparency leads to better results for the world’s poorest people. This report recognises improvements in the publication of aid data, but we know there is more to be done.
“Departments across government will continue to improve the transparency of UK aid and its impact, for example by developing a new publishing tool for aid data, committing to the monthly publication of data and centralising transparency responsibilities.”