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Official Development Assistance

Volume 622: debated on Thursday 2 March 2017

3. What scrutiny of the official development assistance budget the National Audit Office has undertaken in the last 12 months. (909026)

The NAO audits the financial statements of the Department for International Development annually, and it issued an unqualified opinion on the Department’s accounts for 2015-16. The NAO also produces a number of reports each year on different aspects of DFID’s expenditure. It last reported specifically on official development assistance in 2015. Its January 2015 report, “Managing the Official Development Assistance target”, looked at DFID’s management of its increased budget and at the target to spend 0.7% of the UK’s gross national income on overseas aid.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. He will be aware that our constituents in Lincolnshire have growing concerns about the aid budget. They will be reassured that the NAO is looking closely at it. Can he commit the NAO to looking much more robustly at many of the aid projects, which are of growing concern to our constituents?

I can assure my hon. Friend that the NAO will indeed look robustly at all aspects of DFID’s expenditure. For instance, its reports on the CDC and on St Helena both identified challenges for DFID in overseeing expenditure outside its core area of expertise. The Public Accounts Committee’s report on St Helena concluded:

“Thus far, the Department has unquestionably failed the residents of St Helena and the British taxpayer.”

Under the Government’s new aid strategy, an increasing proportion of the 0.7% is being spent by Departments other than DFID—it is estimated that the proportion will be 30% by 2019. Will the NAO also look at how that money is spent and address concerns that it is being siphoned off, undermining DFID’s core objectives?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right that an increasing proportion of the aid budget will be spent by other Departments. That is clearly a challenge for audit, but one that the NAO is capable of undertaking, because DFID remains responsible for reporting to the OECD on official development assistance spending and for reporting to Parliament on the Government’s performance against the 0.7% target. I can reassure her that the NAO is scrutinising that expenditure extremely carefully.