Crossing the Ts
Why is it that the public is so often skeptical of the P3 model? Perhaps the main reason is the fear, however misplaced, that their voice and ‘ownership’ of public services will be lost, as the private sector takes over and does what it wants, where it wants, when it wants, driven only by the desire to maximize profits.
There are plenty of ways to allay these fears, and engaging with communities at the outset is a vital first step – something that needs to be done long before the contract is signed.
But once again this week we seem to have an example of a scheme that has apparently fallen at this first hurdle, and will now send the rest of its life trying to make up ground with a sceptical public.
In this instance, the project is Colorado’s I-70, which is facing a civil rights investigation after a complaint was lodged that it would unfairly impact Latino communities in the region.
This type of problem is exactly the sort of thing that can give P3 projects a bad name and if the public sector is to change the perception of the procurement model, it will have to spend a lot more time and energy working in and with the communities that are affected by the schemes. In this case, the project is not just a P3, but does have a P3 portion to it, which will no doubt get tarred with the broad brush of ‘privatization’ by critics.
We have, of course, seen this sort of problem before in the US. Most notably, the Purple Line project is still dealing with courts and judges – despite the scheme having signed some time ago.
Unfortunately, Colorado’s troubles are not the only setbacks that the P3 market has seen this week. In Latin America, a deal in Paraguay was cancelled because it was found to be too expensive, while in Mexico a tender for advisory services for P3s has also been canned, with no explanation.
Still, it’s not all bad, and as we career towards the end of the year, the P3 concept seems to be continuing some good momentum in the States. Over the past week, we have seen a new water infrastructure Act being progressed by Congress, to be signed by the end of the year.
And in California – where the P3 program that was once the envy of the US has struggled in recent times – Democrats in the state’s senate have introduced a series of new bills designed to rebuild the region’s infrastructure.
This kind of groundwork is of course crucial. But it is important to remember that, if projects are to run smoothly, a lot of groundwork is also needed in educating and supporting the specific members of the public that each individual project will affect.
After all, as the saying goes, all politics is local.
Editor Dan Colombini is currently on paternity leave