In Brief: Before merger, UK's FCO spent 10 times more on consultants than DFID

The former Foreign & Commonwealth Office was spending far more on consultants before their merger last year. Photo by: FCDO / CC BY

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office hugely outspent the Department for International Development on consultants over the last decade, government figures have shown.

FCO outspent DFID 10 times over in some years and nearly 20 times in 2010-2011, a written statement by minister Nigel Adams showed. The two departments were controversially merged in Sept. 2020.

Why it matters: The narrative of DFID being a freewheeling big spending department, while not always grounded in fact, helped fuel political and Whitehall opposition to it, setting the stage for the merger. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab reasserted this narrative when announcing changes to how the government spent aid.

“Restrictive and outdated spending limits ... [that] forced Departments like DFID to outsource work to expensive consultants will be lifted,” Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab wrote in a Dec. 2 letter to the International Development Committee of members of Parliament, informing them of departmental changes.

Raab also told Parliament the government would be “reducing reliance on expensive consultants for project management” as a result of the FCO-DFID merger.

How much was spent? The most significant difference was in 2010-11, when DFID spent £1.4 million ($1.9 million) on consultants, compared to £19.2 million at FCO. The difference the following year saw DFID halve its spend on consultants to £700,000, but FCO spent just over £12 million.

The trend continued even as the amounts spent on consultants dropped in both departments. In 2014-15, DFID spent just over £100,000 on consultants, while FCO spent £1.6 million. DFID spending from then onward was in just the tens of thousands, whereas FCO only managed to dip below £1 million once, in 2016-17, when it spent £814,467. DFID spent £25,822 in the same year.

DFID’s lowest consultant spend was £11,630 in 2017-18, when FCO spent over £1.2 million. Most recently, FCO spent £2.9 million in 2019-20, while DFID spent just £24,609.

About the author

  • William Worley

    William Worley is the U.K. Correspondent for Devex, covering DFID and British aid. Previously, he reported on international affairs, policy, and development. He also worked as a reporter for the U.K. national press, including the Times, Guardian, Independent, and i Paper. His reportage has included work on the Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh, drought in Madagascar, the "migrant caravan" in Mexico, and Colombia’s peace process. He can be reached at