NIPSA Unity opposed to the Strategic Investment Board
Despite the fact that the Northern Ireland Assembly has the opportunity to use the 10 year Investment Strategy for Northern Ireland 2008-2018 (ISNI), with planned expenditure of £20bn for infrastructure projects, to tackle the damage done by the economic recession, it has ceded its democratic role, to the unelected Strategic Investment Board. This body, established as a company limited by guarantee and sponsored by the Office of the First and Deputy First Ministers, represents the narrow interests of the private sector and remains wedded to the discredited dogma of Privatisation and the Public Finance Initiative/Public Private Partnership (PFI/PPP) approach to the funding and delivery of public services.
NIPSA Unity will press for the NI Assembly parties to re-examine the priorities in the Programme for Government in line with the particular demands of the current economic crisis and to implement the Investment Strategy in a manner that best benefits the local economy. This can be achieved through a return to conventional procurement of services from the private sector, in contracts of a reasonable scale so that local small and medium enterprises (SMEs) can compete. Up to this point PPP/PFI has often involved the bundling of different services to such a grand scale and of such complexity, that only the largest multi-nationals can compete. To reduce the cost of borrowing and up to recently, to keep it off-balance sheet, the contracts for service are spread over terms of 15 to 20 or more years.
The fiasco of Balmoral High School is an example of the absurdity of attempting to guess the need for services in the long term. It is also an example of the myth of risk transfer to the private contractor, given that the contractor will continue to be paid for the availability of services no longer needed, right until the end of the contract term. A return to conventional procurement could stimulate an upturn in the local economy, where unemployment in the building trades is the highest seen in recent years. Particular emphasis should be given to social housing which has been neglected during the “boom years” of private sector growth. And the opportunity should be taken to factor in the added value of elements such as ensuring sustainability by improving the skills base through apprenticeships and appropriate training.