Equipment loaded for transport to the Caribbean as part of support for those affected by Hurricane Irma. Photo by: © Crown copyright

LONDON — The United Kingdom is in danger of losing its status as a development leader after the quality of its aid fell sharply, according to a report published Wednesday, causing the country to slide 12 places in an aid effectiveness ranking.

From 2012-2016, the British government dropped from third place to 15th in a ranking of the 27 biggest funders published by the Center for Global Development, based on how well donors have upheld the principles on aid effectiveness agreed in Paris in 2005 and at other high-level meetings since.

“It is really concerning to see that U.K. aid quality has deteriorated so significantly, a trend that has been exacerbated by the shift in aid spending away from DFID.”

— Romilly Greenhill, U.K. director, ONE Campaign

The data covers official development assistance spent by all government departments and not just the Department for International Development. DFID’s share of ODA has controversially fallen in recent years, in line with the 2015 cross-government aid strategy, dropping from 79 percent in 2012 to 75 percent in 2016, according to data from the OECD Creditor Reporting System.

“The data shows the U.K. is waning as a development leader and that it is giving less effective aid and that it is less focused on the needs of recipients,” Ian Mitchell, senior policy fellow at CGD, told Devex.

“The message is to the U.K. government as a whole and not just DFID, that there are some indicators which should concern DFID and they need to make sure they understand the drivers of some of these scores and take steps to adjust,” he added.

However, while the U.K. has been overtaken by other donors in some areas, it still comes top for supporting global public goods; use of untied aid; and for its use of recipient country financial management and procurement systems. The report also highlights that the quality of U.K. spending through multilateral agencies is “relatively strong.”

Although Mitchell said some indicators may have been impacted by methodological changes to the index, this does not fully explain the government’s decline. DFID rejected the findings.

The ranking looks at 24 different measures on how aid is given, organized under four themes:  maximizing efficiency, fostering institutions, reducing the burden on recipient countries, and transparency and learning.

The U.K.’s performance on “fostering institutions” was a major cause for concern, now ranking second to last on indicators that assess “the degree to which donors are genuinely prepared to put partners in the driver’s seat, as so often promised,” the report stated.

It also came in last on the share of aid going to “well-governed” countries. While Mitchell said this could in part be explained by the U.K.’s effort to spend more in fragile countries, donors such as Denmark and Ireland score higher while directing at least 50 percent of their bilateral aid to fragile states.

The report also found that, despite the fragile-states target, U.K. spending is more focused on middle-income countries including Pakistan, Nigeria, and Lebanon, which CGD attributes to more of the aid budget being spent by departments other than DFID. The U.K.’s performance on transparency also declined, falling from first place to 13th place on the public accessibility of information on funding.

“It is really concerning to see that U.K. aid quality has deteriorated so significantly, a trend that has been exacerbated by the shift in aid spending away from DFID,” Romilly Greenhill, U.K. director at ONE Campaign, told Devex. She called on the U.K. government to ensure that ODA is “only allocated to departments and funds that target poverty, and are effective and transparent.”

While the CGD report does not disaggregate data by individual agency, the Aid Transparency index recently revealed a gap in transparency between DFID and the aid-spending Foreign & Commonwealth Office.

“This was clearly a disappointing result not only for the FCO, but this can negatively impact the overall quality of U.K. aid,” Catherine Turner, director of advocacy at Publish What You Fund, which produces the aid transparency index, told Devex.

A DFID spokesperson said: “We disagree that U.K. aid quality has declined. The U.K. still scores well on both the CGD’s Aid Quality index and on the wider CGD Commitment to Development index’s pillar on security, an increasingly relevant focus for U.K. aid spend.”

“To help countries drive their own development, the U.K. provides support in a way that reinforces and strengthens local responsibility, accountability, and leadership.”

Update, Dec. 20: This story was updated to clarify that the data on DFID’s share of ODA spending is based on the OECD Creditor Reporting System.

About the author

  • Sophie Edwards

    Sophie Edwards is a Reporter for Devex based in London covering global development news including global education, water and sanitation, innovative financing, the environment along with other topics. She has previously worked for NGOs, the World Bank and spent a number of years as a journalist for a regional newspaper in the U.K. She has an MA from the Institute of Development Studies and a BA from Cambridge University.