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Government is now less transparent, development charity CEO tells MPs

14 Apr 2021 News

Laurie Lee, chief executive

Care International UK

The chief executive of one of UK’s biggest global development charities has accused the government of lacking transparency over aid plans.

Laurie Lee, the chief executive of Care International UK, was giving evidence to MPs on the International Development Committee yesterday.

Sarah Champion MP, the chair of the committee, told the same hearing that the government should prepare for “a reckoning” over the detail of cuts to aid spending. Earlier this year, charities criticised ministers for hiding spending plans from scrutiny.

Care International UK: Plans must be more transparent  

Responding to a question about government aid policy and gender equality, Lee said that he was “very worried” about the impact that abolishing the Department for International Development (DFID) would have on the transparency of decisions.

DFID was merged into the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) last summer.

Lee said: “We need to improve the transparency again of international development policy-making in the UK. 

“We have historically been very, very good at that. In the last [transparency] rankings DFID was almost at the top. But unfortunately, the Foreign Office was almost at the bottom. And we were very worried when they were put into one department that we were going to level down rather than level up. 

“The experience of the integrated review, getting information about the [aid spending] cuts last year and this year – it is the case that we are nearer the bottom than the top of the approach on transparency at the moment.

“The whole process needs to be much, much more open.”

Making aid work

DFID was rated in the top "very good" category in the 2020 Aid Transparency Index, while the old Foreign Office was only rated "fair".

Writing last year, Bond, the umbrella body for development organisations, said: “Transparency is a precursor to making aid work better for the poorest. 

“If we can’t show people where, when or how UK aid is being used to reduce poverty around the world, we can’t hope to improve the standards of our programming and results.” 

Delays

Lee also raised his concerns at news that the government’s development strategy, which will outline the FCDO's main policy goals and spending plans, will not be published until next year. 

Told by Champion that the development strategy was likely to appear in 2022, Lee said that this was “alarming”, although it might give the government time to “be a bit clearer on the aid budget”.

The FCDO had not committed to a timetable for publishing the strategy, but experts had expected it later this year.

Lee said that future FCDO strategy should be organised around the sustainable development goals.

Care International UK received just over £40m from government contracts and grants last year, according to data filed with the Charity Commission.

‘A reckoning’

Speaking at the same event, Melissa Leach, director of the Institute of Development Studies, said: “We still don’t know fully where they [cuts to aid spending] are going to fall, because the actual process of the cutting in various departments has been untransparent, to say the least. So we are still waiting.”

She added: “I think there will need to be a reckoning, and I think a proper analysis of the impact of these cuts is going to be a necessary element of shaping the new development strategy that we are promised.”

Sarah Champion answered: “I can assure you, on way or another, there will be a reckoning coming.”

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