Britain’s aid watchdog has rated the UK government “inadequate” in three reviews of its aid programmes.
The government faced heavy criticism after announcing £4 billion ($5.66bn) of cuts which it said were temporary and necessary given Britain's record levels of borrowing during the Covid-19 pandemic.
On Wednesday, a report published by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact said the government failed to implement its recommendations in three separate aid reviews.
The ICAI vowed to continue to monitor aid programmes and called for a renewed focus on transparency and accountability.
ICAI’s chief commissioner Dr Tamsyn Barton said she was concerned at the government’s lack of engagement with the watchdog.
“On the one hand, we have seen impressive improvements as a result of ICAI’s engagement with organisations delivering UK aid,” she said.
“However, we have also observed that the turbulence created by Covid-19 and two associated processes of major cuts to programmes, together with the merger of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with the Department for International Development, have set back progress.
“A cause for concern in this context has been a reduction in open engagement in the follow-up process.
“While it may be that this is a result of overload at an exceptionally busy time, transparency is key to learning and given the increased focus on ICAI’s role in enabling UK aid to learn and improve, it is more important than ever before."
The ISAI re-examined three of its reviews – 'How UK aid learns', 'Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative' and 'The changing nature of UK aid in Ghana' – to assess progress on implementing its recommendations.
“They [the UK government] have held back the implementation of recommendations intended to improve the effectiveness and impact of government interventions and to assure taxpayers of the value for money of UK aid spending,” the report said. It
The report rated the government's progress as “inadequate”.
“The follow-up review mainly covered actions taken by the UK government to address ICAI recommendations during the calendar year 2020, a period of enormous change in the UK aid landscape,” the watchdog said.
“The pandemic triggered a global humanitarian crisis in response to which the UK government recommitted a total of £1.39bn from its aid budget towards the response.
“At the same time, lockdown measures and restrictions on travel around the world severely affected the delivery of aid programmes, as did an unprecedented in-year cut of £712 million in planned expenditure after a sharp drop in UK gross national income.”
In November the government announced its decision to cut support for international development programmes from 0.7 to 0.5 per cent of Britain's national income.
The ICAI said these cuts, twinned with the merger of the two departments last September, “contributed to deep uncertainty about the context for implementing ICAI’s recommendations”.
It outlined how responses to ICAI requests were “sometimes slow and information needed in order to assess progress on recommendations was often not forthcoming”, contrasting with more transparent responses in previous years.
Andrew Mitchell, a former international development minister, previously labelled the reduction as "a betrayal" and said the aid cuts were "potentially illegal”.
He said Britain was cutting support for programmes that included the supply of clean water, treatment for HIV-Aids and food programmes.
Dozens of charities and the UN criticised the move, saying it would cost lives.