Friday, September 29, 2006

Neath Port Talbot street lighting

It is reported that the street lights are in a dreadful state and need a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) to restore them. One hopes that the opportunity is taken to remove the unsightly remains of the previously upgraded street lights (picture).

It seems that, once again, because of government rules regarding large capital expenditure, a public-private partnership is "the only game in town" for the county borough.

This party has often criticised PPPs and PFIs (Public Finance Initiatives) as they are applied to schools, hospitals and similar institutions. However, unlike a school or hospital building, user demands from a streetlight are relatively simple and unchanging - that it works, it stays upright, it looks OK - so the relative inflexibility of PFI is less of a problem. There is also less scope for the private partner to load unforeseen charges on the back end.

Liberal Democrat councils like Islington, Cambridge and Redcar & Cleveland have therefore instituted, or are about to institute, PPPs for street lighting with only a few misgivings.

One of these is, that if the PFI partner fails to deliver, the local authority is over a barrel and in a weak position to allow enforcement action to take any time (especially in the winter). If it decides to guarantee a remedy, (eg demanding a bond), it is likely to increase the price demanded by the partner. The cost benefit analysis must also include realistic provision for the Council's legal services.

So, clearly, the choice of partner is crucial (the provider of the Crymlyn incinerator is an instructive example) and there must be safeguards in place.

- Frank Little
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