By Julia Ann Corkery
The July Stimulus Package published by Government speaks to job led recovery. With €500 million additional investment in infrastructure announced which see some projects within the National Development Plan being expedited including road, path and cycle infrastructure improvements, grants for minor works and enhancements across schools and investment in Irish Water, this will be a key economic stimulus, creating jobs and in the longer term improving and producing national assets which will enable and support economic growth of Ireland in the future. In addition, the Programme for Government lays out that investment in Infrastructure will be a key part of the Government's plan for economic recovery, with a commitment to bring forward a review and update of the National Development Plan.
However, the best laid plans do not guarantee that Government’s infrastructure ambitions will be fulfilled, and Ireland will face some significant headwinds over the coming months as we rebuild. It will be key for Ireland to fast-track, where possible, these infrastructure projects in order to leverage the immediate economic stimulus. In order to get these projects delivered as efficiently and economically as possible, government should consider and address the following:
- Private Sector Involvement
- Collaborative Procurement and Delivery
- Capacity and experience of public sector to deliver
Private Sector Involvement
The involvement of the private sector in the delivery of our ambitious National Development Plan (NDP) needs to be strongly considered by the new Government. Constrained finances, particularly as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, will mean that Government will not have deep pockets to fund all these projects in the short to medium term. While the preference for funding these projects, in recent years, has been from the national exchequer, especially given the low rates for Irish government debt over the last number of years, as we enter a new economic realm, utilising private finance could be a useful mechanism for accessing alternative funding to exchequer funding.
In Ireland, private finance has typically been accessed via Public Private Partnerships (PPPs). However, with a significant programme to deliver, alternative forms of private financing should be considered such as leasing, value capture and via infrastructure bonds. The Programme for Government has committed to reviewing the NDP in the coming months, and it is likely there will be reprioritisation of some projects. When doing so, these projects should be assessed for their suitability for delivery, using these various forms of private finance.
In terms of utilising private finance, government should consider the following characteristics of a project:
a. The scale, size and operational profile of the project, e.g. will it require significant operation and maintenance post construction?
b. Could use of the private sector harness innovation, strong commercial management and efficiency in delivery?
c. Can risks be assigned to the private sector who are better positioned and equipped to manage and mitigate them?
Overall, availability-based PPPs have worked well in Ireland, where value for money has been realised over the construction of assets which have lengthy operational and maintenance lifecycle requirements for which the private sector takes the risk. This has been done successfully, for example in the Schools PPPs, where the private sector party is responsible for the construction, ongoing maintenance and operations of the buildings, while the school’s management can focus on the educational needs of the school population.
Lease finance can provide government bodies an opportunity to manage and reduce their capital expenditure output at the outset of a project, enabling them to spread the cost over multiple years. When considering leasing as an option to finance a project, Government should consider the suitability of the project including, for example:
a. The length of the useful life of the project
b. Whether the project will maintain value over its useful life due to well-established operating characteristics and maintenance requirements
Leasing has traditionally worked well for the development of power infrastructure, such as power plants, but it is increasingly prevalent in the financing of public transport in recent years. Leasing has been used by some public transport operators who are moving towards renewable energy fuelled fleets, where additional capital investment in charging infrastructure, for example, may be required. In order to minimise capital expenditure, operators are turning to leasing to finance their new fleet, while maintaining their balance sheet to invest in other value-add projects. Additionally, due to their flexibility, leasing contracts are ideal for constantly renewing fleets and keeping pace with technical progress.
Ireland plans to deliver infrastructure across the island, enabling the development of the regions as well as the Greater Dublin Area. Investment in infrastructure such as MetroLink, broadband and/or enabling infrastructure such as water supply projects, typically tends to increase land values and encourage new property development. In considering the financing of these, Government and/or local authorities should consider value capture mechanisms.
Value capture schemes secure and recover a portion of the benefits/value delivered by public investments, operating under the assumption that public investment results in increased valuation of private land and real estate. By “capturing” the subsequent increase in value, Government can recuperate funds. This is most commonly done via land value taxes, but other mechanisms include levies on developments, sale of public land at enhanced prices, joint ventures with land adjoining public lands and/or joint venture structures that allow the public sector to share the risk and reward of the investment.