Public Private Partnerships

The landscape of partnerships in international development has been changing rapidly over the past decade, with significant realignment of roles between the state, private and third sectors.

Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) have emerged as a key form through which healthcare, education, housing, transport and water are defined, delivered, and evaluated in developing countries. They are viewed as a way of accessing additional funding streams to deliver projects and programmes.

In general, PPPs are shared financial and governance arrangements between the public (the state) and the private sector.

However, PPP has become a loose term. It covers a wide range of arrangements across different sectors that are open to diverse range of interpretations [1]. This means that it is becoming increasingly difficult to understand the actual effect of PPPs. There is an urgent need to understand better what is meant by the term: how it is being used by different actors, across sectors, and disciplines.

PPPs first emerged in the global North in the 1980s as part of a wider strategy of infrastructure development. At this time they were presented as a way of raising finance without increasing public sector debt.

Private sector agents were promoted as being more efficient, leading to cost-effectiveness, often contrasted with the perceived inefficiency of the public sector [2]. Later, in the 1990s, PPPs were promoted by donors across the global South as the solution to the growing demands for public services [3].

PPPs today: addressing inequalities?

Today, PPPs are experiencing a revival [4].  They are championed across the globe by the World Bank [5] multilateral development institutions, bi-lateral donors, national governments and other organisations.

Sustainable development goals

PPPs are believed to have the unique capacity to fulfill the Sustainable Development Goals.

The United Nations Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development encourages countries to build PPPs. This is stated explicitly in Sustainable Development Goal 17.3:

 "encourage and promote effective public, public-private and civil society partnerships, building on the experience and resourcing strategies of partnerships" [6]

The Addis Ababa Action Agenda of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development also encourages such partnerships, as can be seen in the following statement:

"both public and private investment have key roles to play in infrastructure, financing, including through (...) public private partnerships" (paragraph 48, AAAA) [7]

In this way, PPPs are promoted as having the capacity to address inequalities in both the provision and access to public services across the Global South. It is argued that PPPs are uniquely able to deliver public services efficiently and equitably, reducing poverty and inequalities.

However, there is currently insufficient evidence to support such claims [8].

And EQUIPPPS’ main objective is to contribute to such an evidence base by documenting the actual experience of those affected by PPPs.

Cross-sectoral linkages 

The existing research on PPPs tends to be focused on one sector, such as, for instance, healthcare. This has the effect of creating sector-specific silos, and because of this, there has been a failure to address cross-sectoral linkages, challenges and insights. This constrains evaluations of PPPs as both a means to overcome inadequacies in public sector service delivery and enhance social development.

That’s why EQUIPPPS is building inter-sectoral and inter-disciplinary research on PPPs. To do so EQUIPPPS will address the following key questions:

1. In what ways to PPPs increase or decrease inequalities and how does this vary across sectors, countries and regions?

2.  How do forms of accountability (horizontal and vertical) associated with PPPs differ from those associated with more conventional forms of public sector provision and what new social relationships have been forged through PPP regimes?

Regional mapping

Further research into the nature, and history, of the public and private sectors in specific regions and countries is needed. This research would take into account the broader social dimensions of health, education, water and housing, and the complexities of processes of change in these areas.

That’s why EQUIPPPS is carrying out in depth research in India and South Africa.