Headlines: March 10th, 2005

Councils are being offered a new set of guidance to help them through the ‘minefield of complexity’ surrounding public private partnership schemes. A set of fact sheets on local authority involvement in the schemes has been published by the Local Government Information Unit, which is questioning the value for money given by the schemes.The LGIU says local government private finance schemes are notoriously complex and technical but that they can have profound effects on communities and service users. It believes frontline councillors and local people need to be more involved in scrutinising the schemes and that councils need to be more open about them.

LGIU policy officer Janet Sillett, the author of the eleven fact sheets said, “Partnerships with the private sector are a minefield of complexity for local authorities. When they go wrong, the consequences can be disastrous for the users of local services and local taxpayers.” A number of the sheets, which draw on examples from schemes across the country, look at ways the process can be opened up, and at how the Freedom of Information Act may be useful. They also consider how councils’ scrutiny committees could review PPPs.

Janet Sillett said there had been an over-reliance on, and over-confidence in the capacity of the private sector to take on large capital projects. “The private sector’s need to make profits has sometimes outweighed any of the over-hyped efficiency gains. Contrary to all the dogma, PPP has not provided good value for money,” she said.

The fact sheets trace the development of PPP and cover ways in which the procurement process can be openedn up to scrutiny. Starting with a critique of private finance and a look at the value for money of private finance initiative projects, the publications cover topics including overview and scrutiny, open government and PPPs and strategic service delivery partnerships as well as covering specific service areas like housing and education.

The LGIU says the information is aimed at councillors, council officers and trade unionists. The fact sheets can be downloaded through its website at www.lgiu.gov.uk