When the media talk about government outsourcing, they normally concentrate on Capita, G4s or, recently, Carillion. But when it comes to aid, the government outsources too.
The majority of the UK’s aid budget is sent directly to the country concerned. Just over a third of it is spent through partner organisations. The bulk of this money goes through organisations such as the World Bank. But some of it is spent with charities such as Oxfam. The UK government gave Oxfam £31.7 million in 2016 which isn’t a huge amount in government terms but is considerable in charity terms.
This means that the scandal engulfing the aid world, which started with the revelations about the behaviour of certain Oxfam employees in Haiti, also involves the use of public money. As a result, various Commons committees are going to get involved looking at how these organisations handled these allegations, and what the government knew and when. This process will, I suspect, unearth various difficult facts. I would be very surprised if Oxfam’s deputy director Penny Lawrence is the only senior figure who ends up having to resign over how this whole issue has been handled.
When it comes to the aid budget, the debate nearly always concentrates on how much is spent. But this episode is another reminder that how it is spent is actually more important.