PPPs – the magic pudding lives

There’s quite a good piece on Public-Private Partnerships by Graeme Hodge in today’s Age. Fair and balanced, but providing some justified scepticism. Meanwhile the news page of the same paper has a perfect example of the magic pudding mentality that still underlies most advocacy of PPP arrangements.

Brian Caldwell, the outgoing dean of education at Melbourne University, has called on the Bracks Government to follow the lead of the Blair Government in Britain, which is rebuilding schools in partnership with the private sector…Professor Caldwell said that while the Government was moving “quite impressively” to improve the quality of buildings, the cost in many schools was enormous.He called on the Government to adopt the policy of the Blair Government, which is rebuilding schools in urban areas. It often involved the private sector building schools and leasing them back to the Government, which paid them off over 25 years.

Caldwell doesn’t mention cost savings or risk transfer or any of the other reasons why PPPs might be worthwhile, he just seems to think that this is a way of getting money for nothing.

Caldwell on to say that the British PPP program is “coupled with redesigning the educational programs of the schools.” But there is, in general, no link between PPP construction and educational programs, which are typically still public in these cases. Conversely, there are plenty of examples of partial or complete privatisation of education in systems where the public maintains ownership of the school buildings (as with PPP construction, the record of such ventures is mixed at best).

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