Fáilte Project Ireland 2040
Following the launch of Project Ireland 2040, it is important that the industry take stock and appreciate how PPP will remain a key tool in the delivery of Ireland’s infrastructure.
Given that the National Development Plan states that “PPPs have made a very significant contribution to the delivery of priority public capital infrastructure in Ireland”, external observers may be forgiven for thinking that there is no major news story in the government introducing policies to “encourage the use of PPP”, and it is natural that attention now turns to implementation.
However, anyone following the intense and frequent debate among policymakers about the model, on an almost daily basis since the launch of the 2015 Capital Plan, could not have predicted what the future of the Irish PPP market would be after the NDP was launched, and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform’s PPP Review Paper was concluded.
The government’s ability to use PPP has been under constant and close scrutiny, from former ministers in the Irish Labour Party, to international institutions such as the European Commission and IMF.
As the 2018 political year got underway and the finishing touches were being put to the NDP, this scrutiny ramped up as rumblings about the perceived failings of PPP and PFI in the UK spread across the Irish Sea.
In the wake of the NDP's publication, Fergal O'Brien, director of policy and public affairs at business lobby group Ibec, told Partnerships Bulletin that more needs to be done to demonstrate to policymakers the effectiveness of PPPs following the liquidation of Carillion.
While the spectre of Carillion loomed large in the Irish media and parliament, the reality on the ground is that politicians across the country were being photographed almost each week cutting the ribbon on housing, courthouses, schools, primary care centres and motorways all successfully delivered by PPP.
So while the case for PPP is now understood by key decision makers in Ireland, the industry must sustain efforts to ensure its image remains positive.
However while the industry can take credit for working with their public sector partners to deliver successful projects, it is important to recognise other efforts for building the case for a ramp-up in infrastructure spend backed by PPP, which is now policy under the NDP.
The first stakeholders to be acknowledged should be the authors of the NDP, the members of the current government. Firstly they listened; and then they considered all the factors carefully; and now appear to have made decisions based on what was best for the country.
Concerns about implementation are valid, however what affirms the NDP is that procurement of the expertise to deliver the projects is already underway for some of the big ticket projects including Dublin’s Metro, the M20 in Munster and the next wave of housing, justice, education and health PPPs.
Secondly, the efforts of members of the main opposition party Fianna Fáil should also be acknowledged. Equipped with an understanding of the benefits of PPP, party spokespeople such as Dara Calleary and Michael McGrath consistently made the case for infrastructure spend and PPP based on sound logic.
Thirdly, the business community in Ireland played a major part in shaping the debate on the role of PPP.
Equipped with an understanding of the PPP market, member associations including Ibec and the Dublin and Cork Chambers of Commerce consistently made the case for these big ticket projects in the NDP which many commentators had believed were not feasible.
These associations understand that their members and regions need these projects delivered and, crucially, that PPP will expedite that delivery.
Finally a nod to the partners and supporters of Partnerships Bulletin’s annual conference in Ireland; Financing Irish Infrastructure. Like many of the stakeholders mentioned above, the delegates and speakers who have contributed to the conference each year, despite false dawns, recognised the discussion was not 'if' Ireland would have a pipeline, it was when and how can it be delivered.
I look forward to Financing Irish Infrastructure 2018.