Picture: Mackson Mumpande, a beneficiary from the cash transfer and WASH components of the DFID funded PRP in Zimbabwe
Andrew Mitchell has repeatedly stressed that Value for Money (VfM) does not mean a focus on short-term, low-risk and easy to measure solutions. DFID have argued that these concerns about the results agenda are misplaced, and that the department remains a champion for transformative and sustainable development.
There’s no reason to doubt the Secretary of State’s sincere commitment to this position, and have CAFOD found it consistently stressed by civil servants (especially on the policy side of DFID’s work). There does seem to be evidence, however, that in practice, a ‘Value for Money approach’ is having exactly the kind of ill-effects that had been feared.
In Zimbabwe, CAFOD is part of the Protracted Relief Programme – a DFID led, multi-donor programme on food security and livelihoods with a budget of £60 million last year. It is currently transitioning from year 3 to year 4, in what was originally designed as a five year programme. In March this year DFID decided to cut the programme to four and a half years – and then scale it back further to just four years – saying that they wanted to do VfM evaluations of the programme and didn’t want to commit to making longer term grants.
CAFOD’s Regional Manager for Southern Africa, Mark Atterton, described how this would seriously undermine the quality of the programme:
“The 4th and 5th years were supposed to be all about ensuring sustainability and implementing an exit strategy. Cutting back these elements seriously endangers the value of the investments that have already been made, and the ‘value for money’ of the programme in the long term”.
Mark whilst welcoming DFID’s fresh drive on transparency and programme learning from partners described the tension between the drive towards Value for Money and towards greater accountability.
“DFID in Zimbabwe seem to understand VfM to mean getting the maximum amount of pence from the pound to beneficiaries. But if you want to do accurate accountable, transparent programmes that have all the right checks in place in terms of gender, disability etc – you have to recognise that per beneficiary it will cost more”.
CAFOD understands that DFID staff in-country have been given little guidance on interpreting the VfM concept. Perhaps DFID Zimbabwe have got the wrong end of the stick; or perhaps Palace Street and East Kilbride staff have not adequately communicated Andrew Mitchell’s message that VfM shouldn’t risk sustainability. But something doesn’t seem to be working. From CAFOD’s experience in Zimbabwe, the drive towards a narrow version with insufficient understanding of ‘Value for Money’ has translated into a poor process for finalisation of significant past investment by DFID through the PRP.