Lisa Boyd: Could PPP/PFI breathe life into infrastructure in Northern Ireland?

Lisa Boyd: Could PPP/PFI breathe life into infrastructure in Northern Ireland?

Lis Boyd

Eversheds Sutherland partner Lisa Boyd argues that the return of controversial PPP/PFI deals could bring benefits to Northern Ireland.

Following the return to Stormont, the infrastructure minister for Northern Ireland no doubt had a bulging in-tray with huge demands on a tight budget.

With competing interests, increasing delivery costs and budget not keeping up, it seems tough choices may be needed as to which projects are worthy of taking forward.

Perhaps some outside the box thinking is required as to how we can progress capital projects in the region so as to not delay much needed lifelines to services that are already at breaking point.

Public-private partnerships (PPPs) and private finance initiatives (PFIs) are long-term contracts where the private sector collaborates with the public sector to design, build, finance, and operate infrastructure projects. These partnerships aim to leverage private sector expertise, resources, and efficiency while addressing public needs.

Unfortunately, due to the funding model between the UK and Northern Ireland, we saw the rapid decline of (PPPs) and (PFIs) in the late noughties. However, a reintroduction could see more projects break ground sooner rather than later, and PPPs carry with them a number of benefits.

Risk transfer

PPPs allow the private sector to assume specific risks associated with project delivery, such as construction, operation, and maintenance. By transferring risks to private partners, the Government can focus on policymaking and oversight, reducing its exposure to financial and operational uncertainties.

Faster implementation

PPPs can also often expedite project delivery, with private partners bringing efficiency, expertise, and streamlined processes. Timely completion of infrastructure projects benefits communities, businesses, and the economy as a whole.

Improved quality of service

Private sector involvement introduces competition and performance incentives. PPPs emphasise service quality, leading to better outcomes for users, such as improved transportation networks, healthcare facilities, and schools.

Whole life cost considerations

PPPs assess costs over the entire project lifecycle, including construction, operation, and maintenance. This holistic approach ensures that decisions prioritise long-term value for money, rather than focusing solely on initial capital expenditure.

Economic rebalancing

PPPs can contribute to regional development by targeting investment in areas that need economic stimulation. Infrastructure projects create jobs, boost local economies, and enhance connectivity, promoting balanced growth across Northern Ireland.

Evidence-based decision-making

Strategic option appraisals guide PPP choices, ensuring alignment with policy objectives. Decisions consider economic, social, and environmental sustainability, supporting the Programme for Government.

PPPs and PFIs offer a flexible and efficient mechanism for delivering critical infrastructure while managing risks and optimising resources. By harnessing private sector expertise, Northern Ireland could rapidly enhance its public services and drive sustainable development at a time when it is most needed.

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