The Sunday Express has written a long piece about administration costs and the use of consultants in aid programmes.
They were critical, and the UK's Department for International Development (DFID) has responded saying it has cut its admin costs by a third, clamped down on staff travel and stuck to the cross-government marketing freeze.
DFID also explained that it uses consultancy firms to manage some specific development programmes on the ground and to provide independent monitoring and auditing to ensure aid gets to where it is meant to.
ActionAid works closely with DFID and we've seen what the money they allocate has achieved on behalf of some of the world's poorest families.
For example they've recently allocated over £20 million that is helping feed hungry families in the Sahel region of West Africa which is coping with a devastating drought. This kind of support is literally life-saving.
Consultancy - technical assistance - is a complex subject and we don't want people to get the wrong idea about aid which does an amazing amount of good.
There can be no doubt that the government is serious about securing good value for money from the aid budget and this is something ActionAid's been monitoring on a global scale across all donors for the past five years through our Real Aid reports.
As the Sunday Express says, ActionAid believes that the use of consultants in aid programmes must be good value for money and wanted by the recipient government.
Yet the paper also used the phrase “phantom aid” which came from a previous ActionAid report published in 2006 and that we have now stopped using. We recognise that donor practice is evolving and we should acknowledge that.
That doesn't mean to say that globally more needs to be done. After all we can all improve. What we also told the Sunday Express was that the UK's record on consultancy compares favourably to other donors and they are also committed to greater transparency of aid which will enable everyone to scrutinise projects and programmes more closely.
As the Express noted our Real Aid reports also say that technical assistance can form an “invaluable” element of aid programmes, for example in strengthening the capacity of countries to collect domestic tax revenues, which is critical to ending aid dependency.
One of the examples referred to in our most recent Real Aid report was about Rwanda. DFID invested £20 million in aid in strengthening Rwanda's revenue authority. Rwanda now collects that same amount back in taxes every 4 weeks. We think that this is a pretty fantastic use of consultants and brilliant value for money too.