Select Committee on Public Accounts First Report

Conclusions and Recommendations

1.  The Department were successful in responding rapidly and effectively to the Tsunami disaster on 26 December 2004. The Department's emergency response team, which remains on continuous stand-by, was able to respond quickly to news of the disaster and to take action with partner organisations such as the Red Cross to airlift supplies to the affected areas. The Department should seek to share their techniques for achieving an effective needs-based response with others in the international community e.g. Governments, Non-Governmental Organisations and Charities.

2.  The Department adopted a structured approach to the selection of partners, and provided funds to many well-recognised aid organisations that they work with on a regular basis. Developing a broader capacity base in the humanitarian relief sector would provide the Department with a wider choice of partners to work with in the future and could enable them to deliver an even better level of humanitarian assistance.

3.  The process of co-ordination of relief efforts between the Department and the Ministry of Defence could be more systematic. Military assets can provide valuable assistance in emergencies, and the Department recognise that they and the Ministry of Defence need to develop a more systematic framework for co-ordination and working together. The two departments should now set a firm timetable for agreeing such a framework, so that it might be in place before another humanitarian emergency occurs.

4.  The public in the UK were generous in donating money and items to tsunami disaster appeals, but the items donated could not always be used. Over £300 million was raised by the Disasters Emergency Committee. Other items, such as tents and blankets, were also donated. Advice on how best to provide assistance for disaster relief is available from Global Hand's website and the Disasters Emergency Committee, but the Department, with the voluntary sector, should publicise that advice more widely to enable the public to make more appropriate donations.

5.  Over £50 million in project grants were made to third parties such as United Nations agencies and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), but 16 months after the disaster some £9 million had still to be spent by recipients. Until final accounts are rendered by grant recipients no audit can be undertaken, and without audited accounts there can be no independent assurance that moneys provided by the UK taxpayer were used for the purposes for which they were provided. The Department needs to obtain audited figures from grant recipients for grants provided, and to recover unspent balances where appropriate.

6.  The UN humanitarian aid system needs to be strengthened particularly in the areas of leadership and co-ordination. The Department have put forward an eight-point plan aimed at improving the system. Some progress has been made in implementing this plan, in particular with the development of a UN Response Fund. The Department need to continue working with bodies such as other Governments, NGOs, and voluntary organisations in the international community to raise awareness of their proposals and so to influence the implementation of beneficial change.

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