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Locking in added value: Long-term prisons PPP engagement

Invesis has almost a quarter of a century of experience in the design, building, finance, operation and maintenance of Justice projects, with its most recent venture being Belgium’s Dendermonde Prison PPP, conceived to alleviate overcrowding issues with housing for 444 male inmates. It is a sector in which the sponsor/investor has delivered accommodation for nearly 1200 detainees across three countries.

In any long-term infrastructure project, reliability and trust between the procuring agency and those appointed to realise it, is clearly crucial. But in prisons, the security aspects take this to another level. So, what grows trust? Commitment is a factor that played an important role in the Dendermonde Prison project.

Originally selected as preferred bidder in 2012 for Dendermonde Prison and Beveren Prison, a planning dispute resulted in a lengthy delay on Dendermonde which largely scuppered the economies of scale leveraged in the budget to deliver the two prisons projects. During the delay, Invesis built and began operating Beveren, while remaining engaged with Dendermonde, leading two additional financial closes – in 2013 to extend the financial commitment of all the lenders and another in 2020 when the permit issue was finally resolved. It dealt with the operational challenges this created, while also keeping additional costs for the Ministry of Justice to a minimum. And despite the eventual construction commencing at the height of Covid, the building was delivered on-time.

That kind of adaptability and engagement, married with the continuity offered by long-term collaboration, with facilities management concessions of 25 years or more, is underpinned by two key factors; open and transparent communication and constant improvements to meet and exceed objectives throughout the project life-cycle.

Geert Deleebeeck, Project Director at Invesis, sees a genuine focus on ongoing relationships as an investment with powerful returns.  He says, “When we have a good relationship, low deductions, transparent and open communications – when either party has a problem, we will find a solution together.”

After nearly ten years providing Facilities Management services for Beveren prison, a 312 inmate facility with workshops, educational and recreational areas aimed at improving rehabilitation services, Invesis is currently working on plans to switch the lighting from traditional to low energy consumption LEDs. This collaborative and proactive initiative with the Department of Justice is driving environmental and energy costs benefits, without the need for increases to the original budget.

While a significant amount of Invesis’ work is done during the tender stage and financing of the project, a great deal of attention also goes into the operations and maintenance phase throughout the life of the concession to identify opportunities to generate ongoing, unforeseen benefits for the client. According to Deleebeeck, “there is always a return – often not a significant financial return, more often a relationship and reputational return.”

Another upcoming FM requirement will be repainting the now ten-year-old building. It’s likely that a portion of the painting will be done by the prisoners themselves, with the potential for some training to be given and for those prisoners with existing skills given the chance to use them. This socially valuable programme has grown out of a close working relationship in which ideas are freely exchanged and trust is leveraged to generate worthwhile outcomes.

In fact, the Department of Justice is so satisfied with the relationship and the ongoing services being provided by Invesis and its partners at Beveren that it is about to renew the Facilities Service contract, which runs for five years and includes the waste management, laundry and catering services, for the third time.

For Ralf Nagengast, Asset Management Director, his experience in the pathfinder Bremervoerde prison in Germany, 23.240 m² gross floor space dedicated to improving conditions for prisoners and staff, and Switzerland’s the Burgdorf prison, the country’s first public private partnership based on international project financing standards, exemplifies what he calls, “highlighting the third ‘P’ for ‘Partnership’”. He has noticed that some other SPV shareholders handle an SPV like a postbox and only engage with communications that directly concern them.

“The Invesis approach is different,” says Nagengast. “We evaluate every piece of correspondence and whether the reply to it is proper, fulfills all requirements and takes everything into account.” This extra level of support to its private and public partners helps the firm to attract the types of quality partners that help to maintain the high standards it sets: In Bremervoerde, Invesis engaged numerous local SME companies for the construction and operations phases to meet specific targets designed to assist with growth in the local economy. The company also has access to the experience and expertise of larger players that value its knowledge and track record, allowing it to bring into projects the likes of respected industry stakeholder, BAM FM.

It is these relationships that lead to comments like this, from Dr Kathrin Wahlman, Lower Saxony’s Justice Minister, who visited Bremervoerde prison ten years after it became operational and said, “It looks like the prison opened yesterday! In my opinion, it works very well for Bremervorde prison. Good cooperation between the state and the private sector is largely responsible.”

Ongoing commitment to prisons schemes for the entire project life-cycle is a hallmark of the Invesis investment strategy and has brought substantial benefits to to the procuring authorities, inmates and to the wider population.

And when it comes to its resolve to remain involved in the sector, there is a good chance of new engagements on the horizon, as the company is in the process of actively bidding on other European prison projects.

Why Invesis? Click here to view our Justice Experience Brochure

Photos courtesy of BAM and Koen Mutton.

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