What Are Public-Private Partnerships?
Public-private partnerships involve collaboration between a government agency and a private-sector company that can be used to finance, build, and operate projects, such as public transportation networks, parks, and convention centers. Financing a project through a public-private partnership can allow a project to be completed sooner or make it a possibility in the first place.
Private Finance Initiatives & Public-Private Partnerships
How Public-Private Partnerships Work
A city government, for example, might be heavily indebted and unable to undertake a capital-intensive building project, but a private enterprise might be interested in funding its construction in exchange for receiving the operating profits once the project is complete.
Public-private partnerships typically have contract periods of 25 to 30 years or longer. Financing comes partly from the private sector but requires payments from the public sector and/or users over the project's lifetime. The private partner participates in designing, completing, implementing, and funding the project, while the public partner focuses on defining and monitoring compliance with the objectives. Risks are distributed between the public and private partners according to the ability of each to assess, control, and cope with them.
- Public-private partnerships allow large-scale government projects, such as roads, bridges, or hospitals, to be completed with private funding.
- These partnerships work well when private sector technology and innovation combine with public sector incentives to complete work on time and within budget.
- Risks for private enterprise include cost overruns, technical defects, and an inability to meet quality standards, while for public partners, agreed-upon usage fees may not be supported by demand—for example, for a toll road or a bridge.
Although public works and services may be paid for through a fee from the public authority's revenue budget, such as with hospital projects, concessions may involve the right to direct users' payments—for example, with toll highways. In cases such as shadow tolls for highways, payments are based on actual usage of the service. When wastewater treatment is involved, payment is made with fees collected from users.
Public-private partnerships are typically found in transport and municipal or environmental infrastructure and public service accommodations.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Public-Private Partnerships
Partnerships between private companies and government provide advantages to both parties. Private-sector technology and innovation, for example, can help provide better public services through improved operational efficiency. The public sector, for its part, provides incentives for the private sector to deliver projects on time and within budget. In addition, creating economic diversification makes the country more competitive in facilitating its infrastructure base and boosting associated construction, equipment, support services, and other businesses.
There are downsides, too. Physical infrastructure, such as roads or railways, involve construction risks. If the product is not delivered on time, exceeds cost estimates, or has technical defects, the private partner typically bears the burden.
In addition, the private partner faces availability risk if it cannot provide the service promised. A company may not meet safety or other relevant quality standards, for example, when running a prison, hospital, or school.
Demand risk occurs when there are fewer users than expected for the service or infrastructure, such as toll roads, bridges, or tunnels. If the public partner agreed to pay a minimum fee no matter the demand, that partner bears the risk.
Public-Private Partnership Examples
Public-private partnerships are typically found in transport infrastructure such as highways, airports, railroads, bridges, and tunnels. Examples of municipal and environmental infrastructure include water and wastewater facilities. Public service accommodations include school buildings, prisons, student dormitories, and entertainment or sports facilities.