Smart City projects from a legal perspective
For quite a few months now, Smart City projects in Spanish cities have featured regularly in the news. There are many initiatives aiming to implement projects of this kind. However, the real-world results have fallen short of expectations.
The complexity of these projects is clear to see. If they are to take hold, it will depend on two complex issues: how to make important changes to the way public authorities are organized and how to regulate private-sector collaboration appropriately in each case.
The way public authorities are organized must be adapted, in the broadest sense of the word, to the new landscape for delivering services, far removed from the one-sided nature of the relationship or link between a service or department and a given service to be provided.
As for private-sector collaboration, it will be necessary for it to be in a form that accords with the Spanish legal system. Spanish law provides for several possible forms of private-sector collaboration. If we invite such collaboration in the context of the Public-Sector Contracts Law we find ourselves with projects that may require the execution of works, the supply of public services, and the development of certain services and types of assistance. Key concepts of public law come to the fore, such as the public domain, the organization of public authorities, and public-sector employment. Issues over project finance and whether or not to consolidate any public-sector debt incurred are also thrown up. And all this takes place in a context that has a major impact on citizens and on the quality of life in our cities, and that, therefore, requires extreme sensitivity to be exercised.
We subscribe to the view that while there is room for improvement in certain specific aspects, the legal system does currently provide the legal instruments to enable these projects to be executed. Although the requirements for each must be fulfilled, both substantively and procedurally, there is significant scope for being able to legally configure Smart City projects. Of course, we are moving away from a classic (if we may use that expression) works contract, supply contract, or contract for exclusive management of a single public service. But there is nothing in Spanish law to prevent the different tasks to be performed by a private operator from being integrated into a legal transaction.
For all those applying the law – those in the public sector and those in the private sector –, Smart City projects must pose a positive challenge. Such projects can clearly be different from those that existed a few years ago, but this does not necessarily mean they should always be lacking in legal classification.
With a view to sharing these thoughts, we have seen fit to organize, in conjunction with the Fundetec foundation and the Spanish Smart Cities Network, a one-day seminar in which participants can debate how the current legal framework can accommodate Smart City projects. We believe that the conclusions drawn from the seminar will undoubtedly prove useful for those of us who, day in day out, are eager to seek solutions to implement projects helping to improve the quality of life in our cities.
Garrigues Administrative Law Department