Caroline Boin is Project Director at the International Policy Network in London. Here she summarises some of the findings of a new IPN paper published today, Fake Aid: How foreign aid is being used to support the self-serving political activities of NGOs.
It appears the Labour Government has overseen even more cronyism and waste than we imagined. Over £1 billion of supposed “foreign aid” is channelled to UK-based organisations to spread government-endorsed ideology.
Many recipients are Labour-friendly groups like the Trades Union Congress (TUC), which has received £1.2m from the Department for International Development (DfID) to fund its own trade union campaigns and buffets in Westminster. And yes, this is part of the “foreign aid” budget that we all fund through taxes.
Published today by International Policy Network, the Fake Aid report details the shocking use of these budgets that didn’t even exist before 2000. This is entirely a Labour-induced use of taxpayers’ funds, but as well as holding Labour to account, we must demand to know how an incoming Conservative government would right these wrongs.
Andrew Mitchell’s shadow international development team has promised an Independent Aid Watchdog to scrutinise foreign aid spending and ensure that funds are allocated only when programmes are shown to alleviate poverty. It is vital that this is applied immediately and rigorously and that this body doesn’t just become another pointless quango.
DfID has been handing out unrestricted grants with no accountability, often handpicking its favourite charities. Even worse, performance measurement has been judged as poor by the National Audit Office and indeed, by DfID itself. But despite a lack of transparency and little evidence that the funds are doing good, DfID continues to up its grants.
After three years of initial DfID funding, the TUC submitted a “desk impact study”, based exclusively on its own “evidence”. Funds for an independent review had originally been safeguarded, but were axed after the budget overran because they gave their staff pay rises. Funnily enough, the TUC deemed that the grant was a “highly successful project”. DfID responded by renewing the grant for a further three years – and what’s more, they increased it by 66%!
Another programme – the “Development Awareness Fund” – gives money solely to UK organisations to promote government-supported views on climate change, trade, HIV/AIDS and so on. The vast majority of programmes are targeted at children. One programme, for example, funded kids in the UK to talk to kids in Nepal about HIV/AIDS and “stigma”.
Unsurprisingly, the National Union of Teachers is being given the maximum level of grants under this scheme (£300,000). The aim is supposedly to turn teachers into “global agents of change”.
Some of you may have seen the website FakeCharities.org. Well, it needs to include this “charity” pronto – Connections for Development (CfD). The group was founded and is entirely funded by DfID. What does it do? “Provide a forum” for BME [black and minority ethnic] groups to talk about development issues. In wonderful Whitehall-speak, the National Audit Office said:
“There is a lack of clarity about the purpose of the organisation.”
Over its first two years, CfD received £600,000 of taxpayers' money. It only has five employees and its expenditure aside from staff wages is casually listed as “Other costs” (exceeding £160,000 in its last accounts). They are currently violating Charity Commission rules by failing to submit their accounts in time, so there’s no way of telling what they’ve been up to since 2007.
The paper amusingly calls these groups “GONGOs” – government-organised non-governmental organisations. If we’re to have a bonfire of QUANGOs, groups that fall under this paradoxical description must face the same fate. It is simply unacceptable that they are being funded with taxpayers’ cash and presenting themselves as independent.
The largest funding programme is the Partnership Programme Arrangements, worth over £100 million this year alone. Worryingly, the Conservatives have said they intend to continue this programme which funds some of the UK’s largest charities. However, they’ve also said this is on the condition of “evidence of effectiveness and results”. Foreign aid money should only be given to non-governmental organisations when their programmes convincingly prove that they assist poor people in poor countries. DfID’s free-for-all for its Labour-friendly pals must stop.