Dreamt up in the UK in the 1990s, Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) have over the last two decades spread across public services in this country, and now increasingly around the world. As a way of paying for public infrastructure and services like hospitals, power stations or transport, their chief attraction to governments is that the cost of borrowing does not appear on the national balance sheet, meaning it doesn’t appear to increase the government’s debt.
Yet as an increasing body of evidence shows, this ‘buy now, pay later’ model has more often than not led to more expensive, less democratically accountable, and lower quality public services than those directly funded by governments. What’s more, the complicated legal and financial structures behind PPPs obscure a simple fact: they leave an enormous legacy of hidden public debts.
The UK has been the trailblazer for PPPs through the Private Finance Initiative, described by academics as a ‘huge financial disaster’ for our economy. Yet despite this, the UK government is today pushing developing countries towards this global debt iceberg.