(8 June 2020) “There’s no returning to old policies” was a central theme of the EPSU exchange on public procurement and Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) held on 4 June. Years of austerity and liberalisation of public services has clearly weakened the capacity of public health and care systems to respond effectively to COVID-19. Research and testimonies of affiliates point to glaring gaps in public service capacity, especially in public health and care systems. It will be crucial in the upcoming months for EPSU and the wider trade union movement to resist pressures to go back to business as usual and to reverse recent trends in the liberalisation and privatisation of public services.
Taking back control of public services and not outsourcing key services to private providers goes hand in hand with developing progressive policies to strengthen social and environmental requirements in public contracts. Valentina Caimi AEIDL (Association Européenne pour l'Information sur le Développement Local) and Lasse Skurtveit Fagforbundet Norway presented good practice examples of using public procurement to advance social (and environmental) objectives. The example of Oslo City Council is particularly interesting as it takes a multi-dimensional approach to tackling problems in the construction sector. This involves both tackling social dumping and promoting quality employment, including throughout the supply-chain. In Norway we heard that “before many were asking to streamline public spending, but now central question is how to make sure public money is well-spent, and not wasted or misused.” This comment on ensuring public money is used for public good was echoed by Esther Lynch ETUC, who outlined the ETUC strategy to ensure that every company that wins a public tender is respectful of trade unions and collective bargaining, pays its fair share of taxes / social security contributions, and competes on quality, not lowest cost.
The second part of the meeting focused on PPPs, which are often introduced by the back door on the pretext that they bring in private investment. In recent years, we have seen a series of damning reports and articles on PPPs including from the European, and many national, Courts of Auditors. Cécilia Gondard and María José Romero European Network on Debt and Development (Eurodad) shared recent critiques and examples of PPPs as well as campaigns to oppose them and demand alternatives. It is important to raise awareness of the failings of PPPs now, because, as Xavier Sol Counter Balance said, there may be further pushes for PPPs in the post COVID-19 economic recovery plans. Together with Eurodad EPSU will publish soon a briefing on PPPs to update on the latest evidence against using PPPs and in support of traditional public services.
You can find all presentations and meeting documents at https://www.epsu.org/event/public-procurement-public-private-partnerships-ppps-and-concessions-times-covid-19
For more details on PPPs see the EPSU’s PPPs web page.