Readers of this blog might be interested in Rory Hearne’s new book, the first published in the new ‘Irish Society’ series of Manchester University Press.

Public private partnerships in Ireland: Failed experiment or the way forward for the state?
Rory Hearne

Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) have come to public attention in recent years in Ireland with the impact of toll roads, the collapse of social-housing projects and their use in the provision of schools, water/waste water treatment plants, hospitals, light rail and other public infrastructure and services. This book provides a ground breaking and unique analysis of the development of such PPPs internationally, with a detailed focus on the rationale behind their introduction and outcomes in Ireland. The detailed evidence outlined from the author’s extensive research (including interviews with senior central and government officials, private sector, community and trade union representatives and the Irish Minister for Environment) highlights the important role PPPs are playing in the implementation of privatisation and neoliberalism.

The book also provides considerable practical lessons from individual PPP projects. It is therefore an essential read for students, academics of politics, economics, sociology, geography and policy practitioners in Ireland, and further afield. It is of considerable interest to anyone concerned with the progress of Irish society, its economy and public services and governance internationally.

Contents
Introduction
1. Public Private Partnerships
2. The welfare state, neoliberalism and Public Private Partnerships: the international experience
3. Trends in the historical development of the Irish State, public services & infrastructure
4. Outcomes of the Grouped Schools Pilot PPP Project
5. Spinning the wheel: The regeneration of Dublin’s inner-city estates through Public Private Partnerships
6. PPP outcomes in Ireland
7. The twenty first century Irish State, services and infrastructure

We’ve had ghost estates and zombie hotels.  Now it seems we have phantom roads.  Well at least under-utilised roads.  This wouldn’t be too bad in the sense that a nice open road is more pleasant to drive on that one that’s chockerblock, but the problem is that these are PPP toll roads that require a certain level of usage otherwise payment penalties kick in.  Plan Better – a joint initiative of An Taisce, Friends of the Earth, Friends of the Irish Environment and Feasta – have published data that shows that M3 traffic (21,500 per day)  is 22% below the penalty payments level (26,250) and the Limerick Tunnel (13,500 per day) is 26% below the penalty payments level (17,000) on the Limerick Tunnel.  If these traffic levels were to persist then over the lifetime of the PPP contracts the state (i.e. taxpayers) would owe the toll operators over €100m.  Plan Better make a case that the NRA has made a fundamental mistake in applying a growth only model of traffic demand on the Irish roads network and they’re calling for a review of the projections used to justify future road building including the proposed motorway between Oilgate and Rosslare (N11/N25), and upgrades to routes such as Blarney to Patrickswell (N20), Clontribret to Moybridge (N2), the Ballyvourney motorway (N22), Abbeyfeale to Clonshire (N21), Kilmeaden to Midleton (N25), Ashbourne to Ardee (N2), and Tuam to Letterkenny (N17).  Of course, we would expect traffic to fall off during a recession and to pick back up again as the economy recovers, but on the basis of Plan Better’s analysis it does seem like a recalibration of the models used to justify road building might be due given the drastic changes to Ireland’s economy in the past couple of years, especially given the pitfalls of PPP penalties and the pressure to reduce capital spend.  It might well be the case that we need upgraded roads, but we have little need for gold-plated phantom ones (see also this post on Irish Economy).

Rob Kitchin

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