#foreignaid investigation: behind the numbers

This piece was originally published in The Times digital editions on December 9, 2016. This post, now available to the public, also includes access to the raw data.

By analysing more than 72,000 financial transactions, The Times can reveal unprecedented details about aid spending by Britain.

Analysis of spending data from the Department for International Development (Dfid) reveals £3.4 billion in foreign aid was handed out for consultancy work. More than 540 organisations secured consultancy funding and British organisations were awarded 65 per cent of that pot.

Despite Dfid’s efforts to be more transparent, this information was not readily available to the public until now.

Our data team downloaded every transaction published by the Department for International Development (Dfid) between April 2011 and April this year. By adding together the money going to almost 300 consultancy companies and the money spent on more than 270 other organisations contracted to provide “consultancy services” or “technical and advisory services”, we were able to determine the billions Dfid spent on consultancy services in the past five years.

Dfid publishes its aid spending data in a standardised format and has done so since 2011, when the department became the first in the world to publish information under the global International Aid Transparency Initiative.

However, some of the data is patchy and hard to assess. In particular, it is unclear how much money is being paid to British organisations compared with foreign ones and how much flows to consultancy firms as opposed to non-profits or universities.

The Times Data Team set out to fill this information gap and in turn produced a database that allows for the recipients of aid to be examined as never before.

Our database, which is available to download below, classifies more than 1,000 recipients by where they are based and by type: universities, consultancies, non-profits and government bodies. This allows for the recipients of aid to be examined as never before.

Ten firms account for almost half of all the money spent on consultancy. Dozens of UK charities and universities also received eight-figure sums.

More than £2.5 billion in foreign aid has been given to companies and individuals whose identities have been kept secret.

We have stated that if Dfid is really committed to transparency, it needs to provide more detail on the recipients of foreign aid spending in future.

You can search the UK organisations using our tool here or download the raw data here.

The figures we’ve quoted above and in are reporting are conservative totals, based on our interpretation of DfID data. Some of the organisations listed will have received further funds for onward disbursement to third parties and should be considered when reviewing the raw data.