UK lawmakers slam new cross-government funds, ask who is running the show

A view of the House of Commons. Photo by: Jessica Taylor / UK Parliament / CC BY-NC

The U.K. government’s 1 billion pound flagship attempt to spend aid across government departments in a range of security and development-based sectors has come under serious criticism from members of the U.K. Parliament and House of Lords.

The Conflict, Stability and Security Fund and the Prosperity Fund are open to bidding from all government departments that wish to commission projects that tackle the causes and effects of instability and conflict in “countries of strategic importance” to the U.K., according to the 2014 U.K. aid strategy. 

But lawmakers on the Joint Committee on National Security Strategy said the objectives, operations and accomplishments of the CSSF — which was launched in May 2015 — are so far “opaque,” according to a statement issued by the committee.

The Cross-Government Prosperity Fund, which has not yet begun implementing programs and replaced the Prosperity Fund last year, will spend 1.3 billion pounds on economic reform and improving the prospects of developing country economies. Members of the Parliament-based Independent Commission for Aid Impact similarly found a lack of transparency in the Prosperity Fund’s plans for implementation and cited transparency issues, particularly related to the government’s planned rate of expenditure.

“There is no central source of information to explain how the Fund works. There are no published criteria on which programmes and projects are funded. There are no published measures of the impact of CSSF-derived activity,” chair of the committee, Dame Margaret Beckett, said.

“And who has responsibility for the Fund’s management? No single minister is responsible — or accountable. The jury is still out.”

The CSSF replaces the Conflict Pool, which supported the U.K.’s efforts to reduce the impact of conflict and instability around the world and was managed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Under the new U.K. aid strategy, the CSSF is supposed to be managed under the National Security Council, but members of the parliamentary Committee on National Security said the lack of leadership has made the fund’s activities dangerously mysterious.

Speaking about the economic development-focused Prosperity Fund, ICAI Chief Commissioner Alison Evans said in a statement: “The Prosperity Fund is a complex and ambitious initiative, and marks a new direction for UK aid. It has made significant progress in a short space of time, but to deliver on its aims it must continue to improve its systems and processes, particularly given the risks associated with its current speed of delivery.”

Evans shared Beckett’s concerns about a lack of apparent leadership for the cross-government mechanisms, which together make up 2.5 billion pounds of the 13 billion pound U.K. aid budget.

“There is still a lack of clarity between governance and biddings roles, leading to a perception that some departments may have privileged access to the Fund’s resources, although all government departments are entitled to bid,” the report reads.

The expansion of the Prosperity Fund in the 2015 U.K. aid strategy meant a more than 150 percent increase in the fund’s budget in only four years. The Prosperity Fund oversaw spending for 55 million pounds of mostly ODA for the 2016-17 period, compared to its current budget of 350 million pounds.

Referring to the CSSF, Beckett also pointed out that the fund in principle seems a promising alternative to often siloed approaches to international stability and peacebuilding.

“This Fund has great potential. At the very least, Government must appoint a Cabinet Office minister to take responsibility for this £1 billion fund. If not, a lack of collective responsibility risks degenerating into no responsibility at all,” she said in the statement.

For more U.K. news, views and analysis visit the Future of DFID series page, follow @devex on Twitter and tweet using the hashtag #FutureofDFID.

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    Molly Anders

    Molly Anders is a U.K. Correspondent for Devex. Based in London, she reports on development finance trends with a focus on British and European institutions. She is especially interested in evidence-based development and women’s economic empowerment, as well as innovative financing for the protection of migrants and refugees. Molly is a former Fulbright Scholar and studied Arabic in Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Morocco.