NW in 2019 | Make way for the PPP

If 2018 was the year that PFI and large-scale public sector outsourcing died, along with the financial infraction that killed Carillion, then 2019 might just be the year that their far more benevolent and productive cousin – the Public Private Partnership – is rehabilitated, writes Brenda Bates of U+I.

Many UK cities – and none more than Manchester – have undergone an extraordinary renaissance, much of it delivered by enlightened partnerships: the coming together of public and private sector parties with a shared vision and purpose.

Mayfield, Manchester, which is being delivered in partnership with Manchester City Council, Transport for Greater Manchester and LCR, is an exemplar of such approaches. It’s a project which will ultimately lead to the creation of an entirely new district for the city with homes, jobs, offices, leisure and retail facilities and a 6.5-acre park. And, arguably, it couldn’t be delivered any way other than through a partnership.

It has become apparent, however, that Public Private Partnerships are under increasing scrutiny. The controversy over the Haringey Development Vehicle in London – a scheme which proved so controversial that the council leader felt she had to stand down – demonstrated this powerfully.

Such critical scrutiny is not helped by the conflation of the concept of the PPP with its occasionally toxic cousins, Private Finance Initiatives and public sector outsourcing.

The irony, of course, is that there has never been a more pressing need for Public Private Partnerships. The challenges faced by cities and towns across the country are multiple. How do we make them more liveable for our diverse, growing and ageing populations? How do we create new housing and community assets? And all this at a time when public sector finances are under unique strain and local authorities are having to prioritise core services.

Successful partnerships need a shared vision and goals to set them up and sustain them through the good times and the tough times. Therefore spending time finding the right partner is vital. PPPs have to be done right.

In 2019 we at U+I will be implementing a range of initiatives to reset our approach to PPPs.

We will create an independent community challenge panel, bringing together representatives from the public sector, civic society and other developers, which will oversee our PPP schemes to ensure we meet the standards we set ourselves. We will appoint a new U+I non-executive director to oversee this panel.

We have also committed to sharing any profit we make above an agreed projected return on our PPPs with the relevant public partners and local community directly, via a Community Profit Share Arrangement.

Finally, we are establishing a community engagement fund, setting aside a specific budget through a planning performance agreement so that community organisations and representatives are better equipped to engage more effectively in the planning process on our projects.

Our company, U+I, is a specialist in PPPs and that didn’t happen by chance. We recognised long ago that transparent public-private collaborations were the answer to the challenge of making more productive use of public land.

Our initiatives to make our PPP projects better – by which we mean better for our partners and for the communities in which we are operating – are first steps only. But we think they are the right first steps and that 2019 will be the year when we begin to see the benefits of these steps emerging.

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