Public-private partnerships will not solve Germany’s infrastructure problems (“Berlin Brandenburg Airport teaches how not to finance growth”, Opinion, December 7). As the UK’s National Audit Office has demonstrated time and time again, PPPs are poor value for money and also collapse with alarming frequency due to supply side failures – evidenced by this. the Carillion debacle.

The problem at Berlin Airport was that the project owner, Flughafen Berlin Brandenburg GMbH (FBB), had good operational capacities but weak project capacities. As a result, it has constantly modified its contracting strategy in search of more advantageous prices and has thus overloaded its capacity to properly supervise “project interfaces”.

The governance of the FBB project, including its inability to cope with schedule delays by extending the lead time, resulted in on-site work being rushed and therefore poorly executed, resulting in an increasing amount of work that had to be redone. The rotation of project managers was far too high and external political actors were unable to face the facts about the project.

In contrast, Heathrow has devoted considerable resources and effort to building the capacity of its proprietary projects and thus inspiring suppliers to excel. These lessons, and those of other large projects such as the London Olympics, are captured by the Infrastructure Client Group Project 13 initiative which positions the “knowledgeable owner” as a critical foundation for effective collaboration on large projects.

The owner’s project capacity is key to the success of a major project, not whether that owner is in the public or private sector.

Graham M winch
Professor of project management
Alliance Manchester Business School Manchester, United Kingdom

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