Minister Wrong on Public Private Partnership (PPP) Schools

Rory Hearne, who recently completed a PhD on PPPs in Trinity College Dublin and who is a candidate for the People Before Profit Alliance in the upcoming local elections in Dublin South East, has criticised the decision to develop another bundle of schools through the PPP mechanism.

Rory Hearne, a PPP expert said: “Minister Batt O Keefe claims today that one of the main advantages PPP schools have is that the principal is not involved on a daily basis in maintenance and caretaking issues as these become the responsibility of the PPP operator for the period of the contract. However, the research that I undertook over three years into PPP schools in Ireland and the UK found that in fact the workload of principals did not automatically lessen. In some of the Irish PPP schools the workload of principals INCREASED due to the private operator trying to cut costs and the complex nature of contract monitoring.”

“Furthermore the existing two bundle of PPP schools in Ireland were awarded to large multinational service and equity providers e.g. Hochtief, Jarvis and the Macquarie Group. These companies now control key aspects
of the schools. The evidence to date suggests that these companies are more interested in their bottom line than providing quality, education and community based services.”

“The evidence that I have gathered in my PhD points to the need for Irish Government Departments and local authorities to take a much more cautionary approach to the adoption of PPPs, particularly in areas where the public service or infrastructure being provided primarily serves a social equality function.”

A number of salient points should be highlighted:
1. PPPs are not necessarily cheaper than the direct public route. The Comptroller and Auditor General found that schools provided under the PPP route cost between 8 to 13% higher than the traditional route. In fact the introduction of the ‘for-profit’ private sector adds the EXTRA cost of the requirement of a profitable return to the private partner. This cost has in other PPP schools been borne by the students and schools through cheaper, and, therefore, lower quality services and equipment provided.

2. PPPs that depend on private sector providing funding are subject to market fluctuations. The recent collapse of the PPP projects in social housing regeneration in Dublin highlight this clearly. This means that if the private sector cannot identify the required profitability in a project then projects simply will not happen. It is reported that there has been some delay in the other PPP schools because the private sector has not been able to source finance.
There is a previously un-reported level of concern on the part of some of the principals and teachers in the 5 existing PPP schools in Ireland regarding aspects of poor design, maintenance, management, poor monitoring of contract fulfilment by the Department of Education, poor consultation, the commercialisation of schools and a reduction in the community use of the schools.

4. There was also evidence of the worsening of of those workers (e.g. caretakers, cleaners, canteen staff) who transferred from the DOES/VEC (public) to the private-for profit partners.

Overall then, in a tighter economic climate PPPs will become even more deceptively attractive. However there is increasing evidence both in Ireland and internationally that is critical of the extended use of PPPs. It is important, therefore, that a rigorous debate and informed analysis be undertaken of the effectiveness and appropriateness, from both a value for money and social perspective, of PPPs in the delivery and management of public services and infrastructure.

For further information contact:
Rory Hearne
086 152 3542


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