The Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF) has an annual budget of more than £1 billion of taxpayers’ money. Under the strategic direction of the National Security Council (NSC), Whitehall Departments and agencies access CSSF money to commission projects that are intended to prevent conflict, to stabilise countries and regions and to respond to international crises.
The CSSF represents a more ambitious approach to tackling the causes and effects of conflict, instability and insecurity overseas than existed previously under the Conflict Pool. We commend the Government on creating more coherent procedures to tie spending on stability and security in parts of the world that matter to the UK to our national security goals. We also welcome the move towards more multi-year programming under the CSSF. As a result, the CSSF is more able to offer enduring support to fragile countries, while still preserving the flexibility to respond to opportunities and crises as they arise.
Nevertheless, the Government has failed to provide the Committee with the evidence that we need to assess whether the activity funded by the CSSF is as coherent as it could be or is sufficiently linked to the UK’s core strategic objectives. The lack of information available to us means that the jury is also out on whether the CSSF is striking the right balance between the longer-term prevention of conflict and instability and short-term reaction to events. In addition, the commitment to fund assessed peacekeeping expenditure from the CSSF budget leaves programme funding vulnerable to being squeezed should more money be required for international peacekeeping missions at short notice. To provide the stability necessary to allow strategic multi-year programming, the Government should therefore ring-fence the discretionary programmes budget.
The objectives, operation and achievements of the CSSF are opaque. No central source of information exists to explain how the CSSF works, the criteria on which programmes and projects are funded, the impact of CSSF-derived activity, and who has responsibility for the Fund’s management. The Government must prioritise efforts to make the CSSF more transparent. Such measures should include establishing a dedicated webpage that sets out the essential details of the Fund, including the budget, the suppliers, the management process and the lines of responsibility and accountability within Government. The top priority is the publication of a detailed Annual Report, starting with the financial year 2016–17.
The CSSF lacks political leadership and accountability. For example, no single Minister has been appointed to take responsibility for the CSSF. There is the danger that collective responsibility will degenerate into no responsibility. The Government must appoint a single Cabinet Office Minister to take responsibility for this £1 billion fund.
Finally, the Government is clearly keen for the JCNSS to legitimise the CSSF by endorsing the Fund’s operation. However, Parliament does not have sufficient access to the information that we need effectively to scrutinise the CSSF. Without access to the NSC strategies that guide the use of the CSSF, information about the programmes and projects funded by the CSSF and a breakdown of CSSF expenditure, we cannot provide parliamentary accountability for taxpayers’ money spent via the CSSF. It is important that the Government now bring forward proposals on how the JCNSS might access this material while maintaining security.
6 February 2017