71.In our July 2016 Report on the NSS & SDSR 2015, we expressed our surprise that there is no single Minister with responsibility for the CSSF. Reliance on collective ministerial responsibility for cross-government funds involving multiple Government Departments and agencies inevitably runs the risk that nobody takes responsibility (see paragraph 22). This has important implications in relation to the CSSF, which funds activity in environments where the risks of human rights abuses, corruption, harm to personnel, reputational damage and project failure are particularly high (see paragraphs 47–53).
72.The NSC oversees the CSSF by setting and regularly updating the strategies that guide its use, by allocating funding to regions and themes and by engaging with Departments. However, this falls short of proactive ministerial engagement with, and oversight of, the performance of the CSSF as a whole to ensure that the £1 billion budget is spent effectively in support of the UK’s national security interests.
73.The National Security Adviser told us that his engagement with the CSSF as the Senior Responsible Officer accounts for “between 5% and 10%” of his time. This is primarily due to his weekly work on the NSC and the NSC (Officials) committee, which cover the same NSC strategies that guide CSSF activity. He is also closely involved in the NSC’s allocation of funding to regions and themes each autumn (see Appendix 1, paragraph 4). The NSA relies on senior Cabinet Office officials to maintain active oversight of the CSSF throughout the year. He told us that
Robert [Chatterton Dickson, Director of Foreign Policy in the National Security Secretariat] sits on most of the regional directors’ boards and acts as my deputy SRO [Senior Responsible Officer], if you like, in an informal capacity. I would rely on him to come to me if he felt that things were going wrong. My deputy, Gwyn Jenkins [Deputy National Security Adviser (Conflict, Stability and Defence)], will report formally to me in writing every six months with his evaluation of the six months of the CSSF and make recommendations as to whether he thinks the direction needs to be changed or we need to do a deep dive into some particular area that is not working.
The NSA added that he is held to account as Senior Responsible Officer for the CSSF by the Prime Minister, the National Security Council and the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy.
74.There is no single Minister with responsibility for the CSSF. NSC Ministers engage formally with the CSSF only twice a year to agree the strategies that guide the use of CSSF funding and the delivery of programmes and to allocate funding to the regions and themes covered by the CSSF in accordance with the NSC strategies. The National Security Adviser, who is the Senior Responsible Officer for the CSSF, told us that he receives updates on the effectiveness and direction of the CSSF from the Deputy National Security Adviser only twice a year. The current official-led management of the CSSF means that it lacks ministerial direction and oversight, which is inappropriate given its size and scope.
75.The CSSF should be under Cabinet Office control at both ministerial and senior official level, therefore placing it firmly outside departmental affairs. The budget should belong to the Cabinet Office, a Cabinet Office Minister should be politically accountable for it, the National Security Adviser should be the undisputed accounting officer and the Cabinet Office should be the focal point for relevant expertise. A rationalised structure would have the added benefits of making it easier for Parliament to scrutinise the Fund (see paragraphs 82–88) and giving the Fund itself greater autonomy and ability to respond rapidly and decisively to emerging problems.
76.The lack of transparency surrounding the CSSF is of significant concern. Prior to this inquiry, and the publication of the Government’s written evidence, there was almost no information about the CSSF in the public domain. Almost two years since its launch in April 2015, the CSSF still does not have a dedicated webpage that sets out basic details such as what the Fund is for, how it is managed and who is responsible for it. The patchwork of information that is available from Government sources—such as departmental Annual Reports, Written Ministerial Statements, Embassy webpages and the Stabilisation Unit website—is high level, incoherent and occasionally incorrect.
77.As was the case with the Conflict Pool, the Government has not published a list of CSSF programmes and projects. It also did not publish an Annual Report on the CSSF in 2015–16, which was the Fund’s first year in operation. Instead, it opted to include details about a handful of CSSF projects in its July 2016 Written Ministerial Statement. This statement to Parliament provided minimal information about the CSSF financial settlement for 2016–17, breaking the budget down into the top four lines only. Such limited information means that the CSSF is opaque to outsiders. It undermines the Government’s commitment to transparency in relation to ODA reporting, which it highlighted in its written evidence to this inquiry. It is also inconsistent with the stated ambition of Departments such as DFID, which publishes comprehensive information about its development programmes via its online Development Tracker and its Annual Report.
78.We acknowledge that the most significant obstacle to greater transparency in relation to the CSSF is security. The CSSF operates in high-risk environments and the activity that it funds is sometimes sensitive. As a result, it is essential to consider issues surrounding sensitive data and the protection of those working on behalf of the Government in NSC countries. The National Security Adviser stated:
I recognise that a Written Ministerial Statement once a year is not a huge act of transparency, and the fact that only the regional funding is published is not ideal from your point of view. … [However, some] projects and programmes are clearly secret and we would not want it known, or the country involved might not want it known, that we are doing them. Even with publishing country strategies, some countries might feel aggrieved that there was a strategy towards them and some countries might feel aggrieved that there was no strategy towards them.
Melinda Simmons explained that this has implications for the publication of related data such as a breakdown of the CSSF budget by country. However, it is difficult to see why references to Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Libya or Afghanistan, for example, would cause concern.
79.We agree with the human rights group Reprieve, which concludes that “While some projects will of course require classification on the basis of their sensitivity, it does not follow that £1bn of public spending should fall under an umbrella of secrecy.” The Government has not yet struck the right balance between security and transparency in relation to the CSSF. The National Security Adviser’s assurance that the Government will publish an Annual Report on the CSSF is therefore welcome, although its utility will depend on the level of detail it provides.
80.The CSSF is opaque. We accept the need for caution in relation to the security-sensitive aspects of the CSSF. And we note the Government’s plan to publish an Annual Report on the CSSF. However, there is currently no central public source of information about 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.
81.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. This Annual Report should set out:
In drafting an Annual Report on the CSSF, the Government should consider DFID’s Annual Report, which provides a useful model of transparent and detailed reporting on objectives, expenditure and performance results.
82.Effective scrutiny of cross-departmental spending poses a challenge for Parliament. Departmental Select Committees scrutinise the portions of CSSF money disbursed by individual Departments. The Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament (ISC) scrutinises CSSF expenditure by the security and intelligence agencies. In addition, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) holds the Government and its civil servants to account in relation to efficiency and value for money. However, departmental Select Committees and the ISC focus on spending by individual Departments and agencies. And the PAC examines how rather than why public money has been spent, which means that it does not examine the merits of Government policy.
83.On paper, the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy is well placed to scrutinise the CSSF. The Committee’s membership includes the Chairs of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, the Defence Committee, the Foreign Affairs Committee, the Home Affairs Committee, the Intelligence and Security Committee and the International Development Committee. The other Members of the Committee are drawn from both Houses. They have a broad range of experience in relation to national security and many of them have served as Ministers.
84.Despite JCNSS Members’ experience and insight, it was difficult effectively to scrutinise the CSSF due to the fundamental lack of transparency. Little information about how the CSSF works has been placed in the public domain. Although we appreciate the constructive engagement of the Joint Programme Hub and CSSF Framework Suppliers during this inquiry, we were hampered by the lack of an Annual Report setting out the vision, objectives, performance and detailed accounts for the CSSF for the first year of its operation, 2015–16.
85.The need to maintain security presents a further challenge to effective parliamentary scrutiny of the CSSF (see paragraphs 78–80). The NSC strategies that guide the use of CSSF money are entirely classified. In addition, the CSSF combines security-sensitive with non-sensitive activity, often in the same programme. The difficulties this poses in relation to parliamentary scrutiny were set out by the National Security Adviser:
… this Committee meets in public and this is a public session. I give evidence to the Intelligence and Security Committee, which is entirely private—for obvious reasons. One option is that the ISC has the oversight of this fund rather than the JCNSS. I am not suggesting that that is the right option, but it is obviously an option. … If there is a middle ground whereby you can be assured in some private sessions that the money is being properly spent and that things that need to be kept secret can be kept secret, it may be possible for this Committee to continue to have its oversight mission.
86.In January 2017, the Deputy National Security Adviser (Conflict, Stability and Defence) provided us with a private briefing on the CSSF. Although we appreciate the time taken to prepare and deliver this briefing, we are not satisfied that the access provided through this single session equated to effective scrutiny of the CSSF. Furthermore, scrutiny of the CSSF by the Intelligence and Security Committee, the Chair of which is a JCNSS Member, is limited, because the ISC confines itself to examining CSSF-supported activity conducted by the security and intelligence agencies.
87.The Government is keen for the JCNSS to scrutinise the CSSF. In addition to the NSA’s observation that the JCNSS has “an oversight mission” in relation to the CSSF, Ben Gummer MP, Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, has stated that the JCNSS provides “Parliamentary accountability for taxpayers’ money spent via the CSSF”.
88.Parliament does not have sufficient access to the information 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.
136 Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, First Report of Session 2016–17, , HL Paper 18, HC 153, para 88
137 Cranfield University () para 4
139 The NSC (Officials) committee comprises the Permanent Secretaries of NSC Departments and is chaired by the National Security Adviser. It meets once a week in advance of the NSC’s weekly meeting.
142 HM Government ()
143 By contrast, the cross-government Prosperity Fund, which was established a year later than the CSSF, has a dedicated webpage that provides basic information about the Fund and hosts key documentation. See FCO, , GOV.UK, 12 September 2016
144 For example, a GOV.UK webpage on the CSSF and Iraq, published in October 2015 but still live in January 2017, erroneously states that “CSSF guidance stipulates that Embassies should no longer run calls for bids/proposals”. See FCO, DFID, MOD and Home Office, , GOV.UK, 4 October 2015, accessed 17 January 2017. Of the NSC Departments and agencies that benefitted from CSSF funding in 2015–16, only DFID, the FCO and the MOD included information about their CSSF activity and expenditure in their Annual Reports and Accounts for 2015–16. However, this information is minimal and inconsistent. DFID, for example, provided a breakdown of its CSSF expenditure by country, while the FCO provided only two budget lines: ‘peacekeeping’ and ‘conflict prevention programmes’. However, the FCO provided more detail about the purpose and scope of the CSSF programmes for which it has responsibility. See DFID, , July 2016; FCO, , July 2016; MOD, , July 2016
145 [on the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund 2015–16 and settlement for 2016–17], 21 July 2016
146 [on the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund 2015–16 and settlement for 2016–17], 21 July 2016. In September 2015, the FCO provided the Foreign Affairs Committee with a breakdown of programme spending by region in 2015–16. See , from the FCO to the Foreign Affairs Committee, on FCO Budget and Capacity. The Government included a breakdown of CSSF expenditure by region in 2016–17 in its written evidence to the inquiry. See HM Government () Annex B
147 HM Government () para 43
148 DFID’s Development Tracker can be found at , accessed 17 January 2017; DFID, , July 2016
149 Cranfield University () para 3
150 Q35 [Sir Mark Lyall Grant]
152 Reprieve () para 15
153 Q36 [Sir Mark Lyall Grant]
154 For information about the membership of the Committee, see the Committee’s website: , accessed 17 January 2017
155 Q35 [Sir Mark Lyall Grant]
156 Q35 [Sir Mark Lyall Grant]; [on the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund 2015–16 and settlement for 2016–17], 21 July 2016
6 February 2017