This is one of the key messages that came out of the conference, ‘Our Future Is Public’, attended by over a thousand campaigners, activists and researchers, from more than 100 countries (in Santiago and online). We were one of them. The aim was to discuss the critical role of public services and how to counter the dominant paradigm of growth, privatisation and commodification.
Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) were high on the agenda. PPPs are long-term contracts where the private sector designs, builds, finances and operates an infrastructure project. PPPs are highly lucrative for the private sector, and leads countries down a path where taxpayers’ money is spent on assuring a profit to company shareholders rather than the best possible service for the public. Another problematic feature is that the public is kept in the dark about the scale of this profit because of corporate confidentiality. Our recent involvement in the Eurodad report ‘History RePPPeated II: Why Public-Private Partnerships are not the solution’ shows that PPPs are found all over the world, despite evidence of their failures – including in Scotland.
PPP schemes were first introduced in the UK in the 1990s under the term PFI. However, the UK Government abolished the use of PPPs in 2018, after the UK Treasury called the model “inflexible and overly complex” (UK Budget 2018), and the Office for Budget Responsibility suggested that the scheme was a “source of significant fiscal risk to government.” This criticism supported a report from The House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, which concluded that: “It is unacceptable that almost 30 years since the first PFI projects were initiated, the Treasury cannot produce evidence to support its claims that PFI is worthwhile for any reason, apart from the fact that it takes debt off the balance sheet.” The schemes have also been criticized by Audit Scotland, which published a review of the PPPs used in Scotland and found them expensive and in need of more oversight.
Ignoring all the evidence, Scotland continues to use PPPs and there are even plans to introduce a new version of PPPs. This use reflects the peculiar circumstances of the devolution settlement. However, there are alternatives – such as Common Weal’s suggestion of a National Infrastructure Company which could support local authorities to find the best possible solutions for designing, building, financing, operating and managing their projects.
At Jubilee Scotland we believe it is time to break with the mistakes of the past. We need to rethink the way infrastructure is managed and financed in Scotland, and find a way forward that puts people and the planet before profits. And the Scottish population agrees: 62% believe that public buildings such as schools, hospitals and community centers should be fully publicly owned and 67% think that it is important to address that the “Government uses a scheme where private companies can make large profits from designing, building and managing public infrastructure.”
If you agree, please sign our petition to abolish the use of Public Private Partnerships in Scotland! We would love to hear about your experiences with PPP schools and hospitals in Scotland – share your story with us on Twitter @jubileescotland #NoMorePPPs #PPPPetition
Many thanks to our friends at Jubilee Scotland for contributing this article.