PPPs? No, please

Written By: - Date published: 12:15 pm, November 26th, 2008 - 23 comments
Categories: economy, national/act government, transport - Tags:

I’ve never seen the sense in Public-Private Partnerships. How is it ever going to be cheaper to get a private profit-making company to come on-board and take the risk for developing a piece of public infrastructure? The Government has to give them a good deal so they can make a profit, and the Government has to step in when things do go wrong because you can’t have major pieces of infrastructure vital to your economy going offline every time some company collapses. It’s not cheaper to use PPPs, it’s more expensive, more complicated, and more risky. PPPs have never been more than a tool for getting spending off the books by hiding the immediate capital costs of construction in the long-term payments to the private contractor.

But it turns out they’re not only a bad deal for the taxpayer, businesses are increasingly hesitant about PPPs. Fletcher Construction says that, while it will bid for PPPs if National/ACT puts them up it would prefer to contract in the traditional way, which leads to quicker construction anyway:

If the aim was to bring projects to fruition quickly, making them PPPs would be a retrograde step, as so much time is involved in setting up the legal framework between participants in the project, [Mark Burns CEO of Fletcher’s] said. He also questioned whether private sector funding would be viable in the current credit environment without Government guarantees, which nullified the transfer of risk to the private sector.

Some of Fletcher’s biggest roading projects this decade have been building the $300 million Northern Busway and upgrading Grafton Gully and the Central Motorway Junction.

The submission said New Zealand was too small to make the formula work other than in a handful of projects.

“Fletcher Construction formed the view years ago that there were few roading projects in New Zealand that would have the traffic volumes to justify the full transfer of risk to the private sector,” the builder said.

Sometimes benefits of transferring the risk of PPP projects to the private sector were illusory, it said, citing the British Government’s bailout of Metronet, the private operator of the London Underground.

Binns suggested that if the transfer of risk was not complete, the true benefits of PPPs came down to an analysis of the funding costs, and there was a strong argument that the Government would be better off just raising debt, potentially through infrastructure bonds, to do the project using other traditional methods of contracting.

The builder also cited major “upfront paperwork and contractual costs” on PPPs, saying the time and cost involved in this phase was significant and tended to counter any savings in the design and delivery phase.

23 comments on “PPPs? No, please”

  1. Mr Magoo 1

    So let me get this straight. One of the major players in the road building industry thinks PPPs are not a good idea?

    Not sure how to take this?

    It is a bad idea and this is more evidence. (because of the inefficiency in the relationship caused by conflicting motivations between public/private sectors.)

    It is a good idea because this guy seems to think he will make less money this way and ergo it will be cheaper for us?

    Or perhaps “the thrid way” (pun intended) is that it is simultaneously going to make him less money, cost more and simply be a complete budgetary disaster all round?

    National are usually pretty good at these so I can’t wait to see how this pans out…

  2. burt 2

    Mr Magoo

    You need to understand the picture that SP is trying to paint.

    If a major construction company says PPP are not the best way then they are not, because construction companies know what works – right?

    If a major construction company says PPP are the best way then they are not, because obviously the contruction company has a vested interest – right?

    Forget about Helen Clark and the Labour govt passing legislation which made it easier for Govt to enagage in PPP relationships, forget that Helen Clark’s wanted a tunnel built under her electorate using PPP funding arrangements. This is now – The things the Labour party wanted to do were good and the things the National party now want to do are bad. Don’t for one moment take any notice that we are talking about the same things because that is not relevant. The only relevant thing is who is talking about doing them.

    It’s easy to understand – take all logic and put it in the bin, put your partisan hat on and start typing….

  3. It seems like private partners in PPPs usually low-ball their costs to undercut each other (and, of course, the price has to be low enough that the public doesn’t say, what the hell are we doing?’) – it’s still more expensive than a normal government construction protect but not enough for the private contractor to keep in the game if anything goes wrong, or if they have miscalculated their costs (later in the article Burns says smaller companies are incapable of working out their costs over a PPP’s timeframe)

    When things do go wrong, the private partner goes bust and the Government has to step in at significant cost. Everyone loses.

  4. burt 4

    Steve P.

    Irrespective of the contractual arrangements being used when things go wrong on a major piece of public infrastructure the govt picks up the tab.
    [deleted. don’t try to threadjack. take it to kiwiblog. SP]

  5. Santi 5

    PPPs. Yes, please.

    [lprent: Ummm you got banned yesterday. But SP let it through so I’ll let the conversation continue.]

  6. burt. rather than attack me, show why Fletcher challenge is wrong.

    If the risk is always borne by the taxpayer in the end, why pay someone else a profit for taking that risk?

  7. Mr Magoo 8

    Burt: The confusion was not with what SP was trying to paint, but with what my conclusions should be when a pretty major private player is poo pooing PPPs. (like the number of Ps I got in there? Try saying it quickly)

    The standard wisdom on both the left and right suggests that PPPs would be a gain for the private sector overall. The argument is usually around what it means for the public.

    And now we have this guy saying it would end up worse for him? Not a pretty picture. A conspiracy theorist might suggest this is “reverse spin”. 🙂

    Starting to smell like something beaurocrats would come up with over a few too many wines to me. A bit like demanding waiting times are reduced while cutting spending.

    Speaking of beaurocrats, here is a joke for you:

    “How many beaurocrats does it take to organise a PPP?”

    “Far more than Labour ever used….”

  8. If the risk is always borne by the taxpayer in the end, why pay someone else a profit for taking that risk?

    That’s the key question – and its one the right can’t answer. But then, PPP’s are more about transferring wealth and hiding debt than getting a good deal for the public anyway.

  9. burt 10

    Steve P.

    If the risk is always borne by the taxpayer in the end, why pay someone else a profit for taking that risk?

    Of course you are correct (I say this so I you don’t delete my post). I think you have hit the nail on the head. The public service should train and retain construction workers. We could call it the ‘Ministry of works’ and they could be the sole ‘contractor’ engaged on all public works. That model has never failed before has it…

    Are you very young and can’t remember any of the things that have been tried and failed in the past or do you not even go as far as to consider why things are like they are today?

    Again – You have tied yourself in a knot Steve, you think private companies are only motivated by profit so when they say they are not keen on PPP arrangements have you considered that it might be a less profitable arrangement for them – IE: A better deal for the tax payers?

    If Fletchers said PPP’s were good you would say they are bad – you can’t have it both ways… Well you can and you do – but that won’t stop me pointing out that you are a partisan hack who cares not what is being talked about but only who is doing the talking.

    IrishBill: I’m certainly not young. In fact I’m too old to have to suffer boorish fools. Take a week off.

  10. burt 11

    IrishBill

    You are a complete wanker – if you want an echo chamber then so be it, otherwise get over yourself and explain what justified that banning.

    (calling you a complete wanker justifes the ban – but before that, was it that I disagreed with Steve P ?)

    IrishBill: I’ve just noticed this. Take a two week ban. You are continually overstepping the bounds and I see no reason we should host your oikish comments. I suggest you head over to Kiwiblog and call David a “partisan hack” day in day out and see what happens there.

  11. sweetd 12

    Burt

    Did you just engage in a retrospective banning?

  12. Cameron 13

    PPPs are an extremely idiotic scheme. It is sad both Labour and National suppor them! Time to fight back 😀

  13. sweetd 14

    Its funny how PPP’s came about under the leadership of Blair in UK Labour and his wonderful 3rd way politics.

  14. burt 15

    sweetd

    And everything Blair said was a good idea because his party name was “Labour”. That is why we had to have them too, like pledge cards and cash for honours.

    Times change and now the Labour party activists are just scared that National may use the tools that Labour put in place and be successful. Couldn’t have that because the key issue is not what is good for NZ but who delivers the good outcomes.

  15. PK 16

    Why PPPs? Being cynical I thought they allowed the charging for use of an item of government created infrastructure against the users of that infrastructure. Such charges being politically very unsavoury to a populace who perceive the infrastructure should be paid out of taxes. It also takes debt off the government books. Looks nice. I personally don’t mind some form of user charges if it allows something to exist that would otherwise not be fundable.

    Being less cynical there is no denying that the government generally does not perform as well as commerce in terms of running businesses. So, if a PPP needs a well run business for future revenue streams and service then it’s a good candidate. Also a PPP is about allocating risk to the most suitable entity. Commercial entities often manage risk well as they go out of business if they don’t. Not sure roading fits those criteria as it’s more about building the roads than running them in terms of a business. I’ll talk about risk below.

    Risk – Burt made a valid point – Fletcher C do well out of major infrastructure works in NZ at the moment (not a huge amount of competition as a smaller market- FC said so themselves in the article and that they have a large backlog), manages to lay off a fair amount of the construction risk back on the government currently anyway and FC doesn’t really want to get in to running the piece of infrastructure its building as it would be taking on more risk in terms of future revenue flows (and running a business it has no expertise in). FC is making money now – why take more risk without a corresponding potential reward against the risk especially as the article is saying they don’t see the revenue stream? The funding comment is a bit of red herring I feel. But as FC said in the article whether it’s better for NZ to have a PPP is very dependent on the nature of the contract and who ends up owning what risk. FC are obviously not keen to have the risk but could be a rock and a hard place for FC tie the construction work to the PPP and then they are forced to take the risk as they need the construction work.

    On the comment around the government having to step in on the demise of a PPP – I did read an article about 9 months ago putting forward a decent argument (based on analysis of PPPs in Europe had a quick look could not find it to post a link) to say most of the time it cost the government less than if they did it themselves as the reasons for the death of whatever PPP usually related to low ongoing revenues for usage charging, which would normally have been the case anyway. The private company had losses, which the government did not have to bear. In the cases were the government really suffered it typically wasn’t really a PPP as they had contractually underwritten the project and offset no risk whatsoever!!

    The article did a rough comparison with cost overruns against non PPP infrastructure investment and found similar rates of blowouts so that implied it didn’t affect construction or set-up costs. It also found many PPPs that worked but invariably the first few didn’t as government did not know how to set them up, initially.

    Whoever said it’s about wealth transfer think a little the construction companies already make a profit. If done correctly it transfers risk to them greater risk equals less profit typically.

    So, a definite worth considering but needs to be carefully done and for the appropriate PPP.

  16. deemac 17

    no need to argue about whether or not they are a good idea as they have been thoroughly trialled in the UK and are a complete disaster.
    Apart from the guaranteed profit margins for big business (small businesses don’t get a look in) the only attraction was keeping debt off the govt books in order to comply with arbitrary EU limits; but after the latest financial fiasco I think we are really over clever accounting fixes.
    There’s no problem with getting private companies to undertake govt projects providing the contracts are watertight. But PPP is like paying a mortgage then after 20 years the bank owns your house – madness.

  17. burt 18

    Steve P.

    burt. rather than attack me, show why Fletcher challenge is wrong.

    If Fletcher Challenge made a statement that they thought all construction projects should be paid in full up front and that contracts should always have early completion bonus clauses but never have late completion penalty clauses would you agree with them on that as well?

    I can’t show you why Fletcher Challenge is wrong, because they may be wrong but they may also simply prefer standard deposit and progress payment arrangements because they are more profitable or because they are less problematic from an administrative perspective.

    I suspect Fletcher Challenge would rather engage in PPP arrangements over having no work at all, but I could be wrong on that as well.

  18. Quoth the Raven 19

    burt – I don’t know many on the left that thought much of Blair’s government. Remember the Iraq war. Blair’s government did nothing but pander to business, abandon Labour’s principles and turn Britain into a police state. With that list you could easily replace Labour with National and Blair with Key and voilà you have the British Labour, I mean New Zealand National party.
    Stop making stupid assertions, Burt, you’re banned anyway.

  19. I suspect PPPs aren’t about roads. They will be about privatising health care delivery. They won’t really be PPPs….that’s just the cover for letting greedy doctors and insurance companies rake in the dosh for doing nothing more than they do now…..and probably less.

  20. Millsy 21

    We already have PPPs. The state puts up the money and the specifications, the private company signs a contract and goes off to build the item desired.

    Simple really. It works. Dont need to change it.

  21. TimeWarp 22

    Millsy, that’s not a PPP. Paying someone to do something is not the same as entering a partnership with them.

    ‘Partnership’ is the key word in PPP, and the key to understanding what is so wrong with the concept in general.

    Commercially, partnerships are entered into to spread the required investment and the associated risk between the partners. Accordingly, the returns/profits are then spread equally proportionately amongst the parties.

    The problem with PPP fundamentally is that the Government, by the very nature of being a governance and not commercial body, takes on at least the major risk if not all of it. The US $20m bailout of Citigroup is a great example of what happens when risk is transferred to the public.

    Meanwhile, the commercial entity gets at least the major return, if not all. It would have to expect an outstanding return and/or low risk, for it to enter into a PPP in the first place. Because… If the partnership was fair and advantageous to both parties in regards to the risk/return profile, then generally two or more commercial parties would have already entered a partnership in order to capture this return. (Nature abhors a vacuum, and capitalist markets are absolutely no exception.)

    That statement is slightly simplistic in that in a PPP there may be consents or other barriers to commercial partnerships that are lowered. But the fundamental principle holds true… PPP’s are required where the risk profile is too high, or the return too low, for the project to be directly profitable economically. But the projects may be desirable to the government and the community because of the long-term social good, and return to the overall economy (if not the government coffers directly).

    In general I believe PPP’s will transfer risk to the taxpayer, and profit to the shareholder – socialising losses and privatising returns.

  22. TimeWarp 23

    minor edit… “directly profitable economically” above is not strictly accurate, meant to say “directly profitable commercially”

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    The Green et al (2019) fluoride/IQ is certainly controversial – as would be expected from its subject (see If at first you don’t succeed . . . statistical manipulation might help and Politics of science – making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear). Anti-fluoride campaigners have been actively promoting it ...
    7 days ago
  • The return to guerrilla war in Colombia
    by Gearóid Ó Loingsigh On August 29th a video in which veteran FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) commander Iván Márquez announced that they had taken up arms again was released. There was no delay in the reaction to it, from longtime Liberal Party figure and former president Uribe, for ...
    RedlineBy Admin
    1 week ago
  • Air New Zealand identifies this enormous plot of unused land as possible second airport site
    Air New Zealand couldn’t believe its luck that this seemingly ideal piece of real estate had so far gone entirely unnoticed. Air New Zealand’s search for a site to build a second Auckland Airport may have made a breakthrough this afternoon, after employees scanning Google satellite imagery spotted a huge, ...
    The CivilianBy admin
    1 week ago
  • Redline on the Labour Party
    No-one on the anti-capitalist left in this country today puts forward a case that Labour is on the side of the working class.  There are certainly people who call themselves ‘socialist’ who do, but they are essentially liberals with vested interests in Labourism – often for career reasons. Nevertheless, there ...
    RedlineBy Admin
    1 week ago
  • New Fisk
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    1 week ago
  • Labour’s failure
    When National was in government and fucking over the poor for the benefit of the rich, foodbanks were a growth industry. And now Labour is in charge, nothing has changed: A huge demand for emergency food parcels means the Auckland City Mission is struggling to prepare for the impending arrival ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    1 week ago
  • Ardern attempts to vaccinate Clarke Gayford live on television to prove that it’s safe
    Gayford, pictured here on The Project, before things got wildly out of control. A bold public relations move by the Government to encourage parents to vaccinate their children has gone horribly wrong. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern appeared on tonight’s episode of Three’s The Project, where the plan was for her ...
    The CivilianBy admin
    1 week ago
  • Has Mr. Whippy gone too far by parking on our front lawns?
    Mr. Whippy’s business model has driven it down a dark road of intimidation. Residents in major centres around the country are becoming disgruntled by the increasingly aggressive actions of purported ice cream company Mr. Whippy, who have taken to parking on people’s front lawns and doorsteps in a desperate attempt ...
    The CivilianBy admin
    1 week ago
  • Cleaning up the water
    Today the government released its Action Plan for Healthy Waterways, aimed at cleaning up our lakes and rivers. Its actually quite good. There will be protection for wetlands, better standards for swimming spots, a requirement for continuous improvement, and better standards for wastewater and stormwater. But most importantly, there's a ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    1 week ago
  • Fronting up
    Today I appeared before the Environment Committee to give an oral submission on the Zero Carbon Bill. Over 1,500 people have asked to appear in person, so they've divided into subcommittees and are off touring the country, giving people a five minute slot each. The other submitters were a mixed ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    1 week ago
  • Politics of science – making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear
    Anti-fluoride activists have some wealthy backers – they are erecting billboards misrepresenting the Canadian study on many New Zealand cities – and local authorities are ordering their removal because of their scaremongering. Many New Zealanders ...
    1 week ago
  • Democracy – I Don’t Think So
    So, those who “know best” have again done their worst. While constantly claiming to be the guardians of democracy and the constitution, and respecters of the 2016 referendum result, diehard Remainers (who have never brought themselves to believe that their advice could have been rejected) have striven might and main ...
    Bryan GouldBy Bryan Gould
    1 week ago
  • Government says it will now build just one really nice home
    Following publication of this article, the Ministry has requested it to be noted that this supplied image is not necessarily representative of what the final house will look like, and it “probably won’t be that nice.” As part of today’s long-anticipated reset of the Government’s flagship KiwiBuild policy, Housing Minister ...
    The CivilianBy admin
    2 weeks ago
  • Imperialism and your cup of coffee
    Over the next week or two we will be running three synopses of parts of the opening chapter of John Smith’s Imperialism in the 21st Century (New York, Monthly Review Press, 2016).  The synopsis and commentary below is written by Phil Duncan. Marx began Capital not with a sweeping historical ...
    RedlineBy Admin
    2 weeks ago
  • Still juking the stats
    The State Services Commission and Ombudsman have released another batch of OIA statistics, covering the last six months. Request volumes are up, and the core public service is generally handling them within the legal timeframe, though this may be because they've learned to extend rather than just ignore things. And ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • Hard News: Time for a New Deal: 25 years on
    In 1994, I was editing an ambitious street mag called Planet, from a fabled office at at 309 Karangahape Road. The thirteenth issue of the magazine was published in the winter of that year and its cover embodied a particularly ambitious goal: the end of cannabis prohibition.I wanted to do ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Not impressed
    KiwiBuild was one of the Ardern government's core policies. The government would end the housing crisis and make housing affordable again by building 100,000 new homes. Of course, it didn't work out like that: targets weren't met, the houses they did build were in the wrong place, and the whole ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • Solar beats coal
    As the climate crisis escalates, it is now obvious that we need to radically decarbonise our economy. The good news is that its looking easy and profitable for the energy sector. Wind is already cheaper than fossil fuels, and now solar is too:The levellised cost of solar PV has fallen ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • A Step Too Far.
    A Crown Asset? For reasons relating to its own political convenience, the Crown pretends to believe that “No one owns the water.” To say otherwise would re-vivify the promises contained in the Treaty of Waitangi – most particularly those pertaining to the power of the chiefs and their proprietary rights ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Where Money Comes From
    Most people would say, no doubt, that they have a pretty good idea of what money is. They live with the reality of money every day. It is what is needed to buy the necessities of life and to maintain a decent standard of living. You get money, they would ...
    Bryan GouldBy Bryan Gould
    2 weeks ago
  • Banned by the Green Party leadership: Jill Abigail on women’s rights and trans rights
    The article below was an opinion piece that appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of Te Awa (the NZ Green Party’s newsletter) and on the Greens website.  In keeping with their policy of hostility to women defending women’s right to female-only spaces, Green bureaucrats have since removed the opinion piece.  ...
    RedlineBy Admin
    2 weeks ago
  • The fallacy of the proximity argument.
    Longer term readers may remember my complaining that, as a political scientist, it is burdensome to have non-political scientists wanting to engage me about politics. No layperson would think to approach an astrophysicist and lecture him/her on the finer details of quarks and black holes, but everybody with an opinion ...
    KiwipoliticoBy Pablo
    2 weeks ago
  • Where We Stood: Chris Trotter Replies To Stevan Eldred-Grigg.
    Joining The Fight: Stevan Eldred-Grigg's argument for New Zealand staying out of the Second World War fails not only on the hard-headed grounds of preserving the country’s strategic and economic interests; and not just on the soft-hearted grounds of duty and loyalty to the nation that had given New Zealand ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Universities back the climate strike
    On September 27, School Strike 4 Climate will be striking for a future to pressure the government for meaningful climate action. This time, they've asked adults to join them. And now, Lincoln University and Victoria University of Wellington have signed on:Victoria University of Wellington has joined Lincoln University in endorsing ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • Another constitutional outrage
    Another day, another constitutional outrage in the UK. This time, the government is saying that if parliament passes a law to stop Brexit before being prorogued, they may just ignore it:A senior cabinet minister has suggested Boris Johnson could defy legislation to prevent a no-deal Brexit if it is forced ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • Ending dairy in Canterbury
    Environment Canterbury has finally proposed nitrogen limits to stop dairy farmers from poisoning Christchurch's water supply. And naturally, farmers are whining about it:A proposed move by Environment Canterbury (ECan) to protect Christchurch's drinking water by setting tough – some would say, draconian – nitrate reductions in the decades ahead and ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • Is National the party of climate arson?
    The Zero Carbon Bill is currently before select committee. While its targets are weak, its a generally sensible bill that promises to establish a long-term framework to guide emissions reductions. But National hasn't made up its mind on whether it will support it - and according to Andrea Vance in ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • Experts warn Harold the Giraffe “well past” typical giraffe life expectancy, may not have long
    Dum-de-doo. Children across New Zealand have known him for generations as the lovable giraffe who tells them to exercise, hydrate and not to shove lit cigarettes up their nostrils. But a world renowned giraffe expert says we shouldn’t be getting attached to Life Education’s Harold the Giraffe, as he is ...
    The CivilianBy admin
    2 weeks ago
  • August ’19 – NZ blogs sitemeter ranking
    Image credit: 22 BLOGGERS WITH ADVICE FOR RESEARCHERS AND EVALUATORS, ILLUSTRATED I notice a few regulars no longer allow public access to the site counters. This may happen accidentally when the blog format is altered. If your ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Bye, bye to the collusion lie
    Sums it up, really. ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Opinion: Treat your car by buying extra petrol to snack on while you aren’t driving
    By Mike Hosking. Yesterday morning, I waltzed into work, and as I walked past the drones aggressively typing out news on the computers I’ve repeatedly asked to be moved further away from, I caught a glimpse of the words “climate change”, and noticed that suspiciously they weren’t in condescending quotation ...
    The CivilianBy admin
    2 weeks ago
  • US imperialism, Huawei, racism and imperial anxiety
    by Tony Norfield US political opinion against China has two solid bases. The first is the longstanding racist and protectionist sentiment in the white working class; the second is a more recent anxiety about China’s economic prowess in America’s ruling elite. This article notes some historical aspects of anti-Chinese racism ...
    RedlineBy Admin
    2 weeks ago

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