Public-private partnerships for infrastructure at the sub-national level of government: Opportunities and challenges in France

Numéro: 2017-2
Stéphane Saussier – Public-private partnerships for infrastructure at the sub-national level of government: Opportunities and challenges in France
Abstract : According to the OECD, after a short-lived expansion in reaction to the crisis, public investment has recently experienced a substantial decline in a number of European countries (OECD 2013).  As a natural reaction to these budget cuts, more efficient use of increasingly limited resources is put in the limelight: “Doing more with less” has become the mantra of this decade. Those financial constraints have been translated by a changing role of the government itself. Moving from own production to delegation and externalization, the public sector has shifted its focus from dealing with the internal bureaucracy to managing relations with external partners through public-private partnerships. As a result of this transition, which began before the financial crisis, the typical job description of public managers and bureaucrats has significantly changed over the last decades.

This chapter addresses difficulties related to the decision as to go through public-private partnerships. In what follows, we will refer to the definition proposed by the OECD that defines PPPs as 1/ long-term contracts where « private actors assume all or partial responsibility for designing, building, financing, and/or operating infrastructure assets » and for which 2/ « in return for its role in a PPP, the private partner receives a stream of payments from the government, from users (user charges), or both » (Mizell 2015, pages 3-4). While these new forms of providing public services are mainly chosen as a reaction to limited resources and with the aim of accessing private sector expertise to overcome limited public sector capabilities, this shift created a set of new capacity challenges for the public sector: partial contracting out of government services requires specific types of contracting capacity (Brown and Potoski (2003)). In fact, such capacity might be a necessary condition for success and as such need to be carefully studied. We believe that the question of administrative contracting capability as a determinant of performance has not received enough attention. In order to understand and reconcile the large variation in public-private-partnerships (PPP) and contracting out performance with the theoretical predictions, it appears indispensable to put the spotlight on administrative skills. This is one of the objectives of this report. More specifically, through case studies, we put forward several propositions in order to foster opportunities, overcome challenges and create supportive arrangements for PPPs at the sub-national level in France.