JOE GILL: Investors can deliver ‘shovel-ready’ road and rail projects

The Irish Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF) held an annual briefing last week, says Joe Gill.

At it the chief executive of the NTMA, which has overall responsibility for ISIF, argued the case for a much greater level of public-private partnerships (PPPs). His logic was simple and compelling.

The costs of PPPs are at record lows thanks to continued quantitative easing policies internationally. 

As a result, it is possible to structure and put in place long-term projects at costs that make sense strategically and financially for a country such as Ireland. 

By deploying capital to create new advances, especially in infrastructure, Ireland can lay down deep foundations that support the development and growth of the economy.

After the attrition caused by the global financial crisis, and Ireland’s flirtation with the troika, infrastructure is in need of a wave of investment. Roads, airport runways, telecoms, alternative energy, and residential property are just some of the areas that would benefit from fast-tracked PPP projects.

Unfortunately, red tape, bureaucracy and political inaction has left PPPs in a sorry state. There appears to be a mutual level of mistrust between the public and private elements of any PPP process. 

That contrasts with other examples of public and private interests working together for the benefit of the Irish economy.

Anyone who has exposure to how Enterprise Ireland or Bord Bia interact with private industry in Ireland will know that the relationship is strong and mutually beneficial. 

The State organisations provide a multitude of supports for private companies and those businesses back trade events at home and abroad in return. That type of positive co-existence helps drive energy and momentum among companies that need plenty of encouragement when competing in global markets.

ISIF itself is becoming another one of those State bodies that has a genuine commitment to boosting investment and expansion by Irish-based companies. It has committed €2.8bn to date and that funding has triggered an additional €5.3bn of private capital. 

Combined, this money is being used to invest in a variety of sectors that can display an ambition and ability to create world class businesses based in Ireland. More recently ISIF has also backed a programme to support IPOs on the Irish Stock Exchange.

This progress suggests ISIF is best positioned to take on the challenge of making PPPs more effective. The goal is simple — create structures that attract public and private funding to invest in projects that augment infrastructure in Ireland. 

Those structures must offer private investors a sufficient return that competes with other uses of capital while giving the public partners efficient infrastructure which turbo boost parts of the national economy.

It cannot be beyond the wit of the best brains in ISIF and the private sector to set out a template that can be put in front of policymakers for political support. The prize is worth fighting for. 

Fixing things like always available nationwide superfast broadband, alternative energy and water resources for the Dublin area are gigantic challenges but offer enormous benefits for current and future generations.

Ireland has an interesting history in collaboration between the State and private enterprise. The IDA pioneered a model that promoted ‘Ireland Inc’ to multinationals and secured multi-decade investment programmes which continue to the present day. 

Finding a PPP formula that could deliver major shovel-ready projects would complement the wins secured by IDA and Enterprise Ireland and give more balance to the future proofing needed if Ireland is to meet its potential as a source of employment and growth for years to come.

Perhaps the Government that re-emerges with a new leader over the next week can apply some focus to this gaping opportunity to do something that makes a fundamental difference to the condition of our economy.

Joe Gill is director of corporate broking with Goodbody Stockbrokers. His views are personal.



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