In Brief

Consultancies accused of taking billions from UK foreign aid

Aid agencies could be forced to publish all contracts following newspaper report into alleged overcharging

A number of consultancy firms stand accused of overcharging the government to extract "billions of pounds" from the UK's foreign aid budget each year, claims The Times.

An analysis of five years and £38bn worth of aid UK aid payments found spending on consultants accounted for £3.4bn, or nearly ten per cent.

Consultancy revenues have "doubled to £1bn a year since 2012", says the paper.

Priti Patel, the International Development Secretary, has now pledged "to review all foreign aid contracts" and is reportedly "considering forcing aid suppliers to publish all contracts".

It is understood the MP has said privately that she will not "tolerate the profiteering by those who have created an industry out of the suffering of the world's poorest".

The consultancy money was spread among 520 organisations, with the top ten in the UK, "including Adam Smith International (ASI) and Oxford Policy Management", accounting for around £1.5bn of that.

Examples of high costs cited include:

  • a quote of £10,306 to write a single blog post;
  • £23,000 to write a two-page policy brief;
  • £12,000 to produce a six-page 'how-to' note on disaster resilience, and
  • £15,100 to write a 30-page discussion paper.

"The figures are likely to underestimate significantly the aid money flowing to [consultants]," adds the Times. "Many receive large contracts via third parties such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, which are handed billions of pounds in foreign aid to distribute themselves."

The UK spent £12.2bn on foreign aid last year, making it one of only five countries to hit a 0.7 per cent of GDP target. About 40 per cent of that budget goes to "multilateral organisations" such as the United Nations and the World Bank to fund broader aid programmes, while the rest is "bilateral" aid paid directly from the Department for International Development (Dfid).

The Times says the department spends about £8.4bn directly on selected aid programmes.

A Dfid spokeswoman said it was "one of the most transparent development agencies in the world" but that it "can and will do more".

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