Trade, not poverty, could become focus of £1.3bn UK aid pot, watchdog warns

The UK’s aid watchdog has warned that a £1.3bn pot of UK aid money intended primarily to reduce global poverty could become focused on trade with wealthier economies such as China and Brazil.

The Independent Commission for Aid Impact (Icai) also cautioned that potential suppliers of services to the government’s prosperity fund had been providing advice – often at a UK embassy level – on the designs of programmes in “ways that are not sufficiently transparent”. Icai called on the fund to improve its levels of transparency overall, saying there was too little public information available about its work.

The scrutiny of the fund comes as NGOs and opposition MPs warn that changes to the way British aid is spent and a political and media onslaught could sideline the UK’s focus on helping the world’s poor.

The fund, which runs from 2016 to 2021, comes under the authority of the National Security Council. Its remit is to promote the economic reform and development needed for growth in developing countries, but it marks a new direction for the UK aid programme by increasing the funding available to different government departments and by focusing on middle-income countries. It is also the first major UK aid programme to make explicit provision for benefits to businesses, albeit as a secondary aim.

In Tuesday’s review, Icai said there should be more details of how the fund’s programmes are likely to reduce poverty, given that more than 97% of its resources…

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