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UK PPP expertise can aid GCC rail, says British MP

by Rajiv Ravindran Pillai on Mar 9, 2017

UK rail minister, Paul Maynard, was optimistic about the GCC's growing interest in PPP projects.
UK rail minister, Paul Maynard, was optimistic about the GCC's growing interest in PPP projects.

Britain’s expertise in delivering public-private partnership (PPP) projects could provide an edge for firms looking to take part in the development of the Middle East rail market, according to Paul Maynard, the UK’s rail minister.

Speaking to The National on the sidelines of Middle East Rail on Tuesday, Maynard said that "the growing interest in PPP across the region as a whole is something we can take great comfort from".

"It’s a form of finance we specialise in, clearly," he told the UAE daily. "We can share our insights with what has worked well in the past, and I think that will ensure that when these larger projects come up for consideration, that we will be at the forefront of the minds of people in the region."

The head of Saudi Arabia’s Public Transport Authority, Rumaih Al Rumaih, said on Tuesday that the kingdom would look to procure several major city metro systems using PPP in cities such as Makkah, Jeddah, and Madinah.

Oman Rail is also considering using PPP for procuring its first rail line. Despite the postponement of Etihad Rail and delays to the overall GCC rail network, Maynard said that Britain had taken the biggest amount of exhibition space at Middle East Rail for years.

According to conference organiser Terrapinn, there were 30 British companies exhibiting at the event. British and Chinese firms had the biggest contingency, taking an average of 300m2 each.

"Certainly, in the discussions I’ve had so far, I get a very clear sense of momentum across the GCC. I think one reason why we have such a strong presence is because we sense the opportunities that are coming up. Not just here in Dubai but across the Emirates, in Saudi, in Oman, in Bahrain and in Qatar. We have announcements due in Qatar very, very soon," commented Maynard.

He added that the UK’s trading ambitions remain strong as it prepares for a future outside the European Union.

"In the post-Brexit era we need to utilise our capacity to sell Britain abroad," said Maynard. "We remain the outward-looking, self-confident apostles of free trade that we’ve always been."

He also claimed that the UK's withdrawal from Europe should have little effect on its trading ties with the Gulf. "Different parts of the world will perceive Brexit in different ways. Our long-standing links to the region far predate even our entry into the European Union."

One of the companies that took part in Britain’s trade mission is Hewlett Construction. Its managing director, Alan Cooper, who set up an office in Oman five years ago, said that he was confident of being able to pick up work in the region in the not-too-distant future.

"There’s often encouraging noises and sometimes it still doesn’t happen, but it’s interesting to get a feel for the time­scales of when it’s likely to happen," Cooper said.

"I know that there have been some delays – some quite significant – in the whole thing coming together but there are certainly signs in Oman that there’s going to be a freight line to start soon. So we’re pretty pleased with the decision to come here."