Public-private partnerships – a kind of partial privatisation of public assets – have been in the news again recently, largely for the wrong reasons.
A PPP is a scheme in which a private consortium gets a contract to not just build a public amenity but to design, finance, build and maintain for 30 years or so the relevant piece of infrastructure.
They are supposed to deliver better buildings more cheaply, but have a nasty habit of turning out the opposite, partly because they are immensely complex to organise and then monitor. The Transmission Gully roading project is a PPP, and I’ve been extensively quoted in Newsroom stories about its many problems.
Now, Wellington City Council staff are proposing that our beloved public library building – which needs to be strengthened or completely rebuilt because of earthquake risks – should be sold to a developer and leased back, again as a kind of public-private partnership. Again, I think this makes very little sense, and I’ve argued so here.
All of which points to the need for some better thinking about how we design and build public infrastructure – not just arguing that the traditional/old ways are sufficient, but finding genuinely modern ways that don’t involve these complex and cumbersome PPPs.